“The retraining of your mind has been in the Vulcan way, so you may not understand feelings. But as my son, you have them. They will surface.”
Set between “The Voyage Home” and “The Final Frontier”
Kirk-Spock FriendshipOther Languages:
ST:TOS Original UniverseWarnings:
1. Chapter 1 by Jane D
2. Chapter 2 by Jane D
3. Chapter 3 by Jane D
4. Chapter 4 by Jane D
5. Chapter 5 by Jane D
6. Chapter 6 by Jane D
7. Chapter 7 by Jane D
8. Chapter 8 by Jane D
9. Chapter 9 by Jane D
10. Chapter 10 by Jane D
11. Chapter 11 by Jane D
12. Chapter 12 by Jane D
13. Chapter 13 by Jane D
14. Chapter 14 by Jane D
15. Chapter 15 by Jane D
16. Chapter 16 by Jane D
17. Chapter 17 by Jane D
18. Chapter 18 by Jane D
19. Chapter 19 by Jane D
20. Chapter 20 by Jane D
21. Chapter 21 by Jane D
22. Chapter 22 by Jane D
23. Chapter 23 by Jane D
24. Chapter 24 by Jane D
“It is the judgement of this Council that you be given the duties for which you have repeatedly demonstrated unswerving ability: the command of a starship.”
Words, so momentous in their significance they were almost incomprehensible, swirled in his brain. He reached for understanding; his ears ringing with applause. A hundred memories blurred past his eyes – the faces of Khan and of Kruge; the flames of Genesis; Morrow in the Starfleet officers’ lounge; Styles (“You’ll never sit in the Captain’s chair again”); the death fire of his ship; a moment of laughter and release in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay. And even as the buzz of excitement swelled around him, he turned, eyes seeking the one person with whom this moment needed to be shared.
Who wasn’t there.
At least, not entirely.
“I am still,” he said pointedly, rather less than four days later, “on shore leave, you know. You remember shore leave, don’t you, Commodore?”
“I remember it well,” Wesley returned, pleasantly. “And you remember orders, right?”
I’m sure the Admiral will recognise the necessity of keeping discipline in any chain of command.
Kirk looked sideways, briefly, at the climbing equipment he had purchased and the holo of Yosemite, mentally shook himself and managed a grin. It was, after all, what he had signed up for. More – what he had dreamed of, longed for with a bitter-sharp yearning, those years of working a desk in the highest echelons of comfort and safety.
“I am at your command, sir,” he said, both easily and accurately.
“Just as I thought,” the other said, genially. “We have a situation in Cochrane.”
Kirk’s eyebrows rose. Cochrane House meant spies. Back in the day, Starfleet used to run an interplanetary espionage division, which everyone knew was involved in interplanetary espionage because it was called IED. As extra-terrestrial relationships developed, became more sophisticated and strengthened, the middle initial was quietly dropped, and the team was officially renamed “Intelligence Division”. This didn’t stop everyone knowing that it was engaged in interplanetary espionage and, in addition, gave rise to a number of well-worn ‘Fleet jokes about the nature of the intelligence involved – both of the relevant personnel and of external stakeholders of varying kinds. In the end, HQ rather forlornly decided on an official title by reference to the building in which the division was housed. Cochrane House had actually been demolished some time previously, and in fact the operations it had housed were now masterminded from a block inside the central HQ complex, but this didn’t stop the division being referred to as “Cochrane House” and it didn’t stop everyone knowing that they ran interplanetary espionage programmes.
“Cochrane have a long term contact based in Romulus,” Wesley continued. Kirk didn’t react. Running spy-rings beyond the Neutral Zone was in flagrant breach of every Starfleet Treaty in the alphabet and everyone assumed it was going on. He had known himself, of course, from his own years in the Admiralty. He waited.
“It’s gone quiet,” Wesley said, simply.
“For how long?”
“Six weeks, altogether. We knew something had happened, but Cochrane wanted to make sure, and then of course we’ve had to deal with the probe. In fact, we thought for some time that the probe’s transmissions were responsible for losing contact with Romulus – which they were, of course, but then we’ve not heard anything since and all other comparable contacts have been restored.”
Kirk digested this, and then asked the obvious question.
“And why are you telling me this? I can’t possibly take the Enterprise to Romulus, even if she were completely fitted out and ready to go – which, I need to tell you, Bob, she’s not at all, and I was going to ask –“
Wesley waved him down.
“Of course you can’t take the ship. No one’s suggesting that. It’s not that kind of mission, Jim. We want you to go yourself.”
Which put Kirk in a slightly difficult position. After what had happened in the Council Chamber not four days earlier, he wasn’t about to start his new career as the first demoted admiral in Starfleet history by disobeying orders. He was content with where he had ended up but had no desire to end up as second lieutenant. On the other hand –
“Bob, I’ve not really had the training, and it might not be the best use of my time, especially given that someone needs to supervise the re-fit of the Enterprise. On which subject –“
“Cochrane have developed a long range shuttlecraft for this sort of mission, you see,” Wesley said, as though Kirk hadn’t spoken. “There’s only the prototype, but it’s been thoroughly tested over a long distance and rigorous conditions. It can travel from here to Romulus and back, shielded and cloaked; it can even fire a limited number of photon torpedoes and it has transporter facilities and warp drive.”
Diverted, he said,
“That’s impressive. How have they managed to generate sufficient power to cloak for that period of time?”
“By sacrificing space. That’s the drawback. It’s only big enough for three people.”
“Is that the size of the team you want to send?”
“No. The plan was, in this instance, to send a two-man team, with room to pick up a third – if, for example, the contact needs repatriating. And that means two people, alone and dependent on each other for a very long period of time. Cochrane took three teams through a whole year’s training for this sort of eventuality. All six were subject to significant screening and selection processes before they were even taken on to the training programme. There was a very heavy emphasis on psych profile compatibility and they invested hugely in the three pairs who made it.”
“What happened?” Kirk asked. He had a feeling about what was coming next, and didn’t like it much.
“One pair failed the training, one succeeded and is currently heavily under cover in a mission in the Delta sector. One half of the third pair has just been seriously injured in a climbing accident at Yosemite. Idiots. Why they let him go after all that and why he was free-climbing, I have no idea.”
Kirk opened his mouth, thought briefly, and then shut it again.
Wesley thoughtfully studied the holo of Yosemite on Kirk’s desk and turned a bland smile on its owner.
“That’s why we came to you.”
“To catch me,” Kirk said, also looking at the holo, “before I leave for Yosemite tomorrow?”
“Because,” Wesley said, his manner suddenly deadly serious, “we need to get to Romulus immediately and there’s no longer the luxury of time to develop the sort of rapport and dependency we need in the requisite two man team. But we don’t need to, now you and Spock are back in the fold. The two of you invented rapport. There is no other pairing in the quadrant to touch you and you’re even here on Earth, between missions.”
“The Enterprise –“
“- needs more work. You said it yourself, Jim.” (“Well, I certainly tried to,” muttered Kirk). “We rushed her out, somewhat, I’ll admit. The Council very much wanted the grand gesture, after the business with the probe, after that ridiculous accusation by the Klingons – a show of unity and of course the most genuine of thank yous – but I’d not be surprised if you tell me there’s the odd nut that needs tightening.”
Kirk reflected that the ridiculous accusation by the Klingons might have found a rather different audience had the Bounty not diverted to twentieth century San Francisco en route to the hearing, but he thought it politic not to dwell on the point. There was a more important issue at hand.
“Bob,” he said, very slowly, “you know – Spock and I have some adjusting to do, ourselves. Wouldn’t exactly call either of us an odd nut, but –“
His voice tailed away. He’d had a while to get his head round the problem – a couple of rather hazardous trips in a Klingon Bird of Prey, a stroll round Sausalito – but the truth was he hadn’t actually quite opened up to himself about it in the quiet of his own quarters. So he wasn’t going to talk to Bob Wesley about it.
Wesley’s eyes were remarkably clear as they bent on the most recently demoted flag officer in Starfleet. He said, reflectively,
“It was Harry’s idea, actually.”
Kirk looked up.
“Harry Morrow? What idea?”
“Harry’s idea that you and Spock should go. We were throwing some suggestions around, couple of days back, when we got the news about that idiot Jacobson getting multiple fractures free-climbing El Capitan.” Kirk winced. “At one point, we were going to pull the whole mission; then we started coming up with names of Cochrane agents who hadn’t been specifically trained but we thought could probably pull it off. Palmer said no, she wouldn’t hear of it, it had to be a real team, two people who could operate from a place of absolute trust and knowledge and Harry just slammed his fist on the table and said “Jim Kirk”. He said you’d gone to see him just before that little burglary business you and your crew pulled off; said that you were going after Spock. That he was your responsibility – something like that. You know Harry, he wouldn’t care to admit to being moved, but I think you made something of an impression.”
“Must have been why he said no,” Kirk said, very drily.
Wesley laughed. He got up and put a hand on Kirk’s shoulder.
“I’ll see myself out, Jim. You and Spock, in my office, tomorrow morning at 0900 hours. Thanks for the drink.”
Alone, Kirk contemplated the holo and climbing equipment, and then got up and, with an air of some finality, stowed them in a cupboard behind his desk. He then sent a comm to Spock, asking him for a meeting at 0830 hours, which would allow him time to break the news ahead of the briefing. He regarded without enthusiasm the cold remains of dinner, which Wesley had interrupted, and then made himself a coffee and took it to his favourite seat, overlooking the bay.
Was he wrong to be worried? About this mission, or any other?
Was he wrong to be worried about Spock?
He knew reassurance when he saw it, and for Wesley to have delivered that little speech meant that he had read something in Kirk’s eyes, something perhaps a little removed from the stressed encounter in the officers’ lounge when he had said to Harry Morrow – oh yes, he remembered - said with an absolute certainty and clarity now oddly missing from his dealings with his First Officer, “If Spock has an eternal soul, then it’s my responsibility. As surely as if it were my very own.”
Where was that certainty now?
The truth was that it felt like a very long time since I have been and always shall be your friend.
The truth was that the elation which had followed Your name is Jim had faded somewhat, somewhere between the harsh dust of Vulcan and the astonishing resolution of the Council chamber. What followed had been little more than It is the human thing to do when a rescue plan for Chekov had proved necessary, and an exchange of glances in front of a roomful of cheers and crowded chaos. He had overheard Spock tell Sarek that the crew of the Enterprise were his friends, and he had felt warmed by it, felt for the first time that Spock had aligned himself in his old place, on the tightrope he had walked for decades with deceptive apparent ease – and occasional tragedy – between Vulcan and humanity.
What had been almost entirely missing from the whole formula was any real resumption of what had led Wesley to say The two of you invented rapport.
Which was cause for concern, given the mission to Romulus. Kirk spared a thought for the weeks ahead, side by side with the person who had said In that event, the probabilities are that our mission will fail; and It would not be proper to refer to you as Jim while you are in command, Admiral.
But it would get better. It had to. Spock just needed time.
What was it he had said to McCoy, on the bridge of the Bird of Prey? It’ll come back to him.
Perhaps the mission might even help.
He finished the coffee and went to bed, though sleep eluded him for longer than usual.
“The best bet, according to the briefing, is this Romulan, Marillus.”
Kirk had been slightly relieved to discover that the Polaris was not – quite – as small as his imagination had led him to think. In addition to the small flight deck, there were three cabins – admittedly, each approximately the size of the head in his quarters in the Enterprise, but comfortable enough for sleeping purposes and, given that he and Spock were alone, it was just about possible to use the third cabin to eat or work away from the flight deck, to allow for a break in proximity or simply in surroundings.
He wondered, a little, where the name had come from, and whether HQ knew that Polaris was a double star.
“Marillus also appears to have been in contact with Commander Colton until immediately before contact with HQ was lost. This indicates that he will have the most recent information as to relevant developments.”
Kirk regarded the monitor in front of him without enthusiasm.
“It’s a hell of a long way to go with a lead as slim as that.”
“Starfleet is naturally anxious that an instance of unlawful personnel deployment in contravention of intergalactic treaty provisions should escape detection by the Romulan authorities.”
“It’s a needle in a haystack.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow and turned to adjust some controls, and Kirk’s heart sank. The metaphor had been a deliberate bait, and Spock, the old familiar companion of a thousand shuttle flights, had evaded capture. Before Genesis, the Vulcan would have said Sir, the Romulan contact is not a sewing implement and the Romulan homeworld is not a construct of dried grass and he himself would have rolled his eyes and said Come on, Spock. You know all about needles. They are what camels pass through when the wealthy get stuck half way, right? and Spock would have said Your introduction of a metaphor developed in mainstream Earth religious scripture is interesting but not, if you will forgive me, Captain, entirely germane to the conversation, and he would have said You know what, Spock? Everything’s germane when you’re stuck on a shuttlecraft for six weeks without a decent drink, and Spock would have said Vulcans do not- and Kirk would have cut him off and said It’s your move, Spock. Checkmate in five, and Spock would have failed entirely to conceal a mixture of amusement and dismay and would have pretended that his rapid re-assessment of the chess board was in reality an abstract review of biblical metaphors.
Kirk had not, so far, introduced the subject of chess. Not on this journey across so many unknowns.
It had been chess, after all, which had got him into this. He had, on occasion, over the years, occasionally found himself wondering in a moment of whimsy what his life would have been like had Amanda not taught her son this quintessentially human game. Or had he himself grown up with a preference for cards, as Sam had. It was over black kings and white bishops that he had first, very tentatively, reached out to his First, and over a white knight holding a black king in check that he had first begun to understand how to plot the moves of Vulcan facial expression.
He looked now at Spock’s slightly averted face, as the Vulcan studied the readings on the navigation panel and felt a wash of fond nostalgia, regardless of circumstance and of his friend’s current capacity to respond - thought affectionately, You play a very irritating game of chess, Mr Spock. And it was only in the instant of Spock turning, eyebrow on the climb, that he realised he had spoken aloud.
Kirk-like, he regained the ground immediately, thought to himself – Use it.
“Are you making a general reference, Captain, or are you deliberately quoting comments you have made to me in the past?”
He frowned slightly, thinking this over, and asked, curiously, venturing for the first time, very gingerly, into the place they had not yet stepped, not since Mount Seleya,
“Do you remember me doing so?”
Spock said, “In fact, you have used that expression to me on a number of different occasions, the first of which was Stardate 1312.4, seven point two light days from Delta Vega.”
Kirk caught his breath. Gary. A pair of silver eyes. Pray that you die easily… Spock was right, that was when it had all began. Chess had started just before Delta Vega, and Gary had died and he’d promoted Spock without hesitation, and that was inextricably bound up in a Vulcan face bent over an illogical risk to a black queen.
“And you remember that, verbatim? Spock – do you remember everything? And if you do – how?”
It was a challenge. Let me in, Spock, he thought, watching the closed face. And then the Vulcan said, very levelly,
“After the fal-tor-pan, I was given assistance by the Masters to retrieve full mnemonic functionality. I am, as you know, the sole living subject of the fal-tor-pan but the techniques involved have been handed down to students at Gol and, in every generation, the most able have been taught the ancient disciplines in order that support could be given in the eventuality of the need arising.”
Kirk ignored his reaction to the word Gol, like a light blow landing on a long healed scar which covers a wound which was never properly cleansed in the first place. “Lucky for you that they had the foresight,” he said, feelingly. “Lucky for me, too.” Spock showed no reaction to the offering implicit in the second half of this remark, and Kirk continued, regardless, “So what do they involve, exactly, these techniques?”
On the Bounty, heading (had they then known it) to a park in twentieth century San Francisco, Spock had said to McCoy in response to a similar question It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame of reference. This time, he spoke in a manner both more robust and at the same time less dismissive, as though he were granting Kirk, at least, the right to ask the question, but also allowing him the credit to be able to appreciate that true understanding was beyond his reach.
“Captain, I appreciate your interest in my well-being, but the request is illogical since experiential cognizance is impossible.”
But it was the first, small window which had opened, and Kirk pressed on with two simple words,
Spock regarded him and appeared to reach an inner decision. “Essentially, during the process of the transfer of the katra, the conscious link is suspended between the fact of memory and the ability to interpret and access empirical sensation.”
“Meaning,” Kirk ventured, “that the memory itself isn’t lost but it’s subconscious.”
Spock adjusted some controls on the panel and turned fully to face Kirk, as though resigning himself to the conversation.
“In the human race,” he said carefully, “most memory is subconscious, because your species does not have eidetic recall. There are doubtless incidents in your own childhood, Captain, of which you are now entirely oblivious, yet if your mother were to describe them to you, you might well recall them on an empirical basis, by which I mean that you would remember, at least perhaps partially, the perspective of experience, as opposed to receiving and processing the relevant information from a witness. There are other incidents from the past, the memory of which humans will never recover without a different type of assistance, the nature of which is beyond the capacity of members of a non-telepathic species, where memories remain inaccessible even with the prompting of a witness. With that prompting, you would be able to learn that they took place and describe them to third parties, but you would still lack experiential, personal memory.”
“And this is what happened when your katra was being held by McCoy – it meant he couldn’t really access who you were, despite the mind-meld.”
“That is, essentially, correct.”
“But he did – I mean, there were times…” Kirk’s voice tailed away. He was in Spock’s quarters, that nightmare day they came back from Genesis; “Take me home, Jim”; McCoy a dead weight in his arms.
Spock would clearly rather be calculating warp speed formulae than having this conversation. He said, in the tone of one conjugating irregular verbs,
“In an instance of particular requirements or acute awareness, it appears possible to access critical mnemonic data or experience.”
When I really needed to reach you, I managed, somehow.
Kirk, caught between a certain acute awareness of his own and an ancient irresistible amusement, bit back a grin at Spock’s so obvious reluctance to venture on this particular conversational pathway. But he might never have this chance again, out in the boundless quiet of space, less than a metre apart from each other, on their own particular journey, and he couldn’t afford to let the Vulcan off the hook.
“And you’re telling me that after the fal-tor-pan, that barrier was removed.”
“That is incorrect, Captain.”
Kirk let the words into his brain for several seconds before he reacted.
“Incorrect? Are you serious? What are you saying, Spock?”
Spock steepled his fingers, another step back in time for his captain, and Kirk thought I guess that gesture crosses the mnemonic barrier but his attention was focused on what was to come. Which was just as well, because he was braced for the truth.
“The experts at Gol who have studied the disciplines are able to reach into the mind, after the refusion, and access the memory in its entirety. They are then able to provide access to the subject – in other words, to allow the subject to understand and re-learn what has passed.”
“Why,” Kirk asked, uncertain other than in the fact that he wouldn’t like the answer, “why is that different from what I said?”
“Captain, to understand the process it is necessary to revisit my analogy of childhood memory and the difference between experiential memory and didactic memory.”
Kirk turned and looked out of the main viewer, at the passing stars. He remembered, suddenly, for no reason, the transformation of the Mutara Nebula when the Genesis device had been activated – one minute rainbow streams of swirling cloud, the next minute the black clarity of deep space, the familiarity of the constellations and the birth of a new planet. He swallowed.
“You are telling me that the students at Gol accessed the memories of your entire life and re-taught them to you?”
“Essentially, yes. I was not under the impression, Captain,” Spock added, sounding, to Kirk’s ear, for the first time, as though he understood, at least in part, the direction and bearing of the conversation, as though it mattered, as though it had any relevance to him, “that you were dissatisfied with the proficiency of that teaching.”
“No,” he said, “no, Spock. Not dissatisfied.” He smiled, briefly, and ran a hand over his face. “Just going to check the readings on the power supply” and he got up and went to the back of the craft. Spock would know it was a guise for privacy, but he didn’t care, he desperately needed space to process what he had just heard. The fact that he now understood, that the distances of the past weeks were clear, that he had been right – all his instincts about Spock proved, once again, unerring – all this was of no comfort at all. The Vulcan was here, physically unharmed, his future restored to him – a gift beyond what Kirk would have dreamed possible when he was looking at Spock’s burned face and blind farewell through a glass barrier in the engineering room of the ship he had now lost. But the future wasn’t the same as the past. Kirk was very far from sure that the ancient expertise of the teachers of Gol made up for the fact that, to all intents and purposes, Spock had not manned the bridge with him for the historic five year mission of the Enterprise, had not stood with him in the basement of a twentieth century New York mission, had not wandered the tunnels of Janus VI. He could probably quote every line he’d ever spoken, faultlessly, but he had not been there. He had been taught his life. He had not lived it.
What did that mean for this mission, for the ship? What did it mean for Kirk?
Kirk found himself, after an astonishing turn of events, restored to what he had wanted most in the Universe, what he had lost and had seemed most inaccessible – his ship, Spock by his side. But it was not the Enterprise of the past. This was not the ship which had borne him to the Neutral Zone and back, been shelter from a thousand hostile forces, been flesh of his flesh. She bore the same name and she beckoned him to believe in that promise, but he’d already discovered that she had more than a few loose nuts and bolts. And now Spock. What else, beside his first ship, lay dead on Genesis? What did it mean, if you had to be re-taught by the Vulcan Masters everything you’d ever done – what did it mean for the remembered touch of mind on mind, the absolute knowledge of another being – for I have been and always shall be…?
Standing by the power console, figures flashing, eyes unseeing, Kirk remembered, suddenly and keenly, that he was older than the young starship captain who had once been invested with the five year mission. That he had had precisely four days of shore leave since the Council hearing, that before that there had been the whales, Vulcan, Genesis, David – no respite. He was so tired. And now – this.
Behind him, Spock said,
“On Stardate 1312.4, immediately after your comment on my chess game, I suggested to you that irritation was a human emotion and therefore not one within my range of experience.”
Kirk turned and stared. Was this Vulcan reassurance? Was it an offer to learn, to re-visit – what had Spock called it? – experiential memory? Was it both? Either way, no way was he letting it pass.
“That’s only what you said, Spock. It wasn’t what you meant.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“Neither of us, Captain, is perfectly placed to know what I meant.”
Kirk let a smile develop.
“An interesting suggestion, First Officer. I know exactly what you meant because I (not you, according to your own argument) – I’m the one who spent five years in rather close proximity to you. I know damn well you experience irritation and what you really meant was that you were pleased I was losing the game.” And had the satisfaction of seeing Spock actually listen, take this in, consider whether it might actually be true and if so, what inferences could be drawn – and the equal satisfaction of seeing him come back for battle, as Kirk had seen him do a thousand times before.
“It is at least possible,” Spock countered, “that if we revisited our combined memories of that period of time from this perspective that you might have to admit the occasional error in your own perspective, Captain.”
“Perhaps,” Kirk said. “Perhaps I might. That might be rather – illuminating.” He was still smiling, aware of a rush of optimism which had washed him to a very different place from that moment of weariness in the back of the Polaris. The journey might be a challenge, but he and Spock had faced worse.
After all, he had six weeks.
And at that moment, the console beeped. Kirk looked up sharply. Spock said,
“We are still in Federation space.” He nodded and Spock opened the channel and said,
“Polaris, this is HQ,” said Bob Wesley’s voice. “We’ve had a slight change of plan, gentlemen.”
Kirk’s eyes met Spock’s. He was aware, of all contrary things, of an immediate disappointment. Little as he wanted to take the Polaris to Romulus, he had just grasped the potential of time alone with Spock, the possibility of rediscovery – even of the chance to understand better, second time round, their own, personal two-man mission. Even in that moment, he wondered if Spock understood, agreed even. He wondered whether, if you lost your katra and then went through fal-tor-pan, and had your mind re-trained the Vulcan way and had to be taught that your former captain thought you played an irritating game of chess – he wondered if you could still, under those circumstances, access telepathic contact with a member of an alien species who had once been your closest friend.
“We’re sending you a ship mate. He’s on the Columbia and will rendezvous with you this side of the Neutral Zone at 1330 hours. I’m sending you through the coordinates now.”
“That,” said Kirk, “will make the journey decidedly cosy. If anyone’s allowed to join the party, why did it have to be Spock and me in the first place?”
“We’re concerned about the possible situation on Romulus, Jim,” the communication console said. “HQ have reason to suspect you may need medical back-up, and given the length of your service with McCoy, there’s no need for concern about your ability to make the trip without murdering each other. Give the doctor my regards. Wesley out.”
“Well, isn’t this fun?” McCoy said, leaning back in his chair.
He’s going to say it, Kirk thought.
“Just like old times.”
He’s said it.
Why was it that both his senior officers were so predictable? McCoy was so stubbornly himself, and Spock so stubbornly someone else. It was as though they were doing it on purpose. Although, to be fair, it was hard to criticise McCoy, under the circumstances. Not for being himself, and not for realising that being stuck on the Polaris with someone who looked just like his First Officer, while a ship which bore his own ship’s name hung in orbit with doors which failed to open – that nothing about this was the slightest bit like old times.
Shortly after the rendezvous with the Columbia, Spock had requested time for meditation and Kirk had agreed, suggesting that he also took the opportunity to sleep, which they would have to do in shifts. He had a suspicion that, as they got further into Romulan space and their journey became more hazardous, he would hear more about the Vulcan capacity to manage without sleep, and he was determined that, at least at this stage of the mission, Spock was properly rested. He thought that the limited resources of the shuttle could best be managed by a rota, in any case.
He had every intention of continuing his conversation with Spock. McCoy was a doctor, not a Vulcan, and he was banking on the CMO’s very human need for sleep.
The blue Georgian eyes were missing little.
“So, Jim, how’s it going, second time around?”
“Second time around?” Kirk was genuinely puzzled.
“Not much different from the rapturous welcome he gave us after that brainwashing he bought into at Gol,” McCoy said, causing Kirk to shoot a rapid glance towards the back of the shuttle, the spec of the sound-proofing and his knowledge of Vulcan hearing equally at the forefront of his mind.
“Bones, for God’s sake...”
“Same disciplines, same cult, same old warped approach to life,” McCoy continued, without lowering his voice, entirely unperturbed. “That’s where he was being looked after, you know, after that refusion business on Seleya. Stands to reason, you’d get the same result. Oh, not that I’d trade, you understand. Better running around in a white robe talking to five decimal points than stuck inside my head, thank you very much. And if you swear not to let on, I’ll admit to preferring the quadratic equations he calls conversation to – well, to the alternative. But what are you going to do now, Jim, without VGer to shock him back to what Vulcans have the nerve to call normal?”
Kirk looked at McCoy and then back at the viewer.
“It’s not quite the same. He just needs time. It’ll come back to him.”
“That’s what you said on the ship.” McCoy’s eyes were suddenly very blue, focusing on his captain. “Jim – did you and he ever talk about Gol, anyway?”
Kirk said shortly, “He moved on, Bones, you saw it yourself.”
“You got something to say, doctor, this is as good a time as any. Till Spock comes out of meditation, it’s just you and me and the Neutral Zone.”
“That’s what worries me,” McCoy grumbled, “damn fool mission. Whose brilliant idea was it to start running spy rings in Romulus, who thought it was a good idea to get a few more people killed on top of whatever fiasco we’ll find when we get there, and what the hell happened to my shore leave?”
“That all you have to say?”
“No, actually,” McCoy’s tone changed, and he looked directly at his captain. “Don’t you think it’s time you and Spock started actually talking to each other, instead of you just hoping to God that half of what he says isn’t what he actually means? It’s an odd sort of basis for a friendship, if you ask me, let alone running a ship or even a shuttle, and frankly, unless and until he gets his head round what happened in Gol, he’s always going to get tugged back, when the going gets tough, like he is now, to being a high functioning library database.”
Kirk was silent. If you had asked him, he might have said that what made Spock Spock was the inherent contradiction of his two halves, that it wasn’t something you could label in a convenient box, that if you sorted it all out and added it all up and divided it by two, it wouldn’t capture the unique essence which was his First Officer. That sometimes, you managed very well on hoping to God that half of what he said wasn’t actually what he meant. On the other hand, this might just the journey he was planning to embark on with Spock. When McCoy was asleep, of course.
McCoy case another shrewd look at Kirk and said, “And since we’ve got a few minutes…” and started a rather long-winded description of his abortive plans for shore leave, which seemed to have involved the ship’s chief engineer, a trip to the Scottish Highlands and an improbable amount of alcohol. Kirk made a mental note to himself to ensure that Scotty was in a fit state to ensure that the Enterprise was in a fit state, and started to consider what he was actually going to say to Spock.
Some of the things he was not going to say passed through his mind.
“Spock, do you remember meeting me in sickbay after your pon farr?” Not a good place to start.
“Spock, can we talk about what you meant when you said that you felt ashamed when you felt friendship for me?” Perhaps later in the journey for that one, too.
“Spock, could I have stopped you going to Gol? Should I have stopped you going to Gol? Why did you go, really? And why did you leave? Do you remember?”
McCoy was right; they had never talked about it. How much more chance was there now, here on this shuttle, hurtling through Romulan space, undetectable by any Romulan eye, with an even more impenetrable cloak obscuring his friend?
He refocused his mind, caught a mention of “Romulan ale” and smiled slightly. Perhaps McCoy was right, after all – it was good to remember the things in life which didn’t change.
There was, of course, no question of any alcoholic souvenirs making the return journey on the Polaris.
Four and a half hours later, McCoy had retired to one of the cabins and given them the benefit of a not inconsiderable monologue on the subject of its inadequacies. Spock had looked to all intents and purposes as if McCoy were not, in fact, on the Polaris at all, and Kirk bit back a grin and edged a small distance back to old times. It seemed fair to assume that sleep had come, fifteen minutes after the last colourful epithet, and he turned to Spock, with an air of one who had decided what to say and who wanted to make the most of the time he had. Both of which would have been accurate descriptions.
“Spock,” he said, carefully, noting that the Vulcan had stilled, had clearly been expecting this, but having little energy to spare just then from making sure he got the words right, “Spock, let’s start with where we were. I said you played an irritating game of chess and you said I first made that comment just before Delta Vega.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow and nodded.
“Well, if your teachers at - at Mount Seleya” – his voice stuck at the word Gol – later for that – “have earned their stripes, then you’ll remember – well, everything. I’ll confess I don’t, verbatim, but I do remember talking to you in the Delta Vega control room. You were disagreeing with Liz Dehner’s prognosis. She thought Gary wouldn’t hurt us; you thought he would; I asked how you knew, when she didn’t. You said something, something like –“
“Because she feels. I don’t. All I know is logic. In my opinion, we’ll be lucky if we can repair this ship and get away in time.”
Kirk stared. Even if he hadn’t trusted absolutely in Spock’s assurances of perfect recall, he would have known that the line was word perfect. On the one hand, he was back there, standing in the planet’s control room, Spock with a rifle in his hand, himself resentful, torn between terror for Gary and the threat to his ship, unaccepting of Spock’s solution. On the other hand, they were words spoken in another man’s voice. He could see it, in Spock’s eyes – the very act of calling up the memory somehow meant he knew it wasn’t his. His determination faltered. But only momentarily. He was committed to this – was somehow convinced that it was the best thing for Spock, as well as for himself.
“Yes, that’s what you said. But it wasn’t true, was it?”
“Captain.” Spock spoke in a tone part warning, part a Vulcan version of frustration which almost raised a smile from Kirk. “This will be a futile exercise if you persist in approaching all past interactions with me from an anthropomorphic perspective. I am not Terran. I do not have human feelings. I said that I do not feel and that all I know is logic because that is the case.”
“Spock, this is an easy one. I know you didn’t mean it because you told me so. Afterwards. After Gary died, you told me that you felt for him. I remember it quite clearly. And so, presumably, do you.”
Spock was quiet for a minute. Then, as if making his captain an offer, he said,
“Captain, there are times when, if one lives with members of another species, it is necessary to adopt certain cultural and linguistic mores.”
“You’re not another species, Spock. You’re half human.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“My mother is human and I am of human descent. But my upbringing, my education, my home planet and my perspective are all Vulcan. Can you not accept that?”
Kirk wanted to say, “And the bullying, the rejection, the loneliness – also Vulcan?” but he didn’t. Instead, he feinted back.
“Then tell me about the adoption of certain cultural and linguistic mores.”
“I would argue that it is the responsibility of the alien, in any culturally mixed community or circumstance, to attempt a form of discourse where there is an approximation to a mutual philosophical framework.”
Kirk considered this.
“Define approximation, First Officer. If you said you felt for Gary and you now say that was not strictly accurate, what did you actually mean?”
Spock looked back at him, almost out of another man’s eyes, a look of kings in check and bishops in peril. Kirk stared back, willing there to be something more behind the eyes, looking for a distant movement of surrender. The Vulcan said, quite gently,
“I was able to appreciate the situation in which Lieutenant-Commander Mitchell found himself. I was able to understand the challenges he faced after the mutation took place and although my preference and inclination would be to believe that his choices would not have been mine, it was evident that his mental faculties were insufficient to resist. The fact of his different heritage was not a matter for blame.”
“In other words,” Kirk said, focusing on the face opposite him and not allowing Spock’s words to sweep him back to another loss, the remembered pain for another friend, “in other words, you felt for him.”
“That is not actually the case, sir,” Spock said, and Kirk thought, is the return to the language of command an emphasis on denial? Or a distancing, a signal of discomfort with the conversation? “You are associating the phrase with an emotional reaction. It is entirely possible to acquire an understanding and appreciation of beings and circumstances without the intrusion of sentiment, and in fact this is a common development for those living in extra-terrestrial communities. It is not necessary to rely on parallels to my own situation. Dr McCoy’s predilection for emotional reaction is a phenomenon familiar to us both. Yet Dr McCoy is capable of observing, understanding and analysing the behaviour of bacteria, animal and alien species without overtly sentimentalising the situation. It is, however, the case,” he added, “that this is not, unfortunately, invariably so with regard to the doctor, and another example might have been more apt. I apologise.”
The appalled realisation that Spock was likening his sympathy for Mitchell to McCoy’s observations on bacillus subtilis was tempered by the unexpected humour of Spock’s final interpolation, but even then, Kirk wondered, eyes searching Vulcan features for a sign, could the comment simply be intended to be taken at face value?
What made a person who they were, anyway? Once you took away memory, and then you taught a person what had happened to them and overlaid the experience with your own interpretation (that time the ship’s First Officer died, that would have been interesting to you in the same way that the ship’s CMO would have been fascinated by observing bacterial laboratory experiments) – who were you, really? Was there such a thing as the essence of a being? Kirk supposed he had always thought that he was the product of his experiences and his memories. Suppose he didn’t actually have any – suppose, in fact, he had someone else’s. Or someone else’s ideas of his own. Would he still be himself? Or someone completely different?
Playing for time, he said,
“Still as plotted, Captain,” Spock said, promptly. “ETA forty eight point three five standard days.”
Something about his train of thought prompted another mental picture. Would he still be himself? Or someone completely different? Green skin, a girl dancing.
“Spock. Do you remember Elba Two?”
“Certainly. The Enterprise made standard orbit there on stardate 5718.3, with a delivery of new medication for the treatment of the criminally insane. Our mission was ultimately successful.”
“On occasion, Mr Spock, you display an impressive economy of language,” he said drily. Garth of Izar, a deranged grin, Daniel Cory in the cells, the ultrasonic wave torture, the cruel and mindless explosion which wiped out Marta on the unhospitable surface of a pitiless mad planet. He brought himself back to the present, eyed his First Officer, who had survived a lot worse in the intervening time, and smiled slightly.
“Do you remember discussing Garth en route to Elba Two?”
“Indeed. You provided an enthusiastic commentary of significant length on his victory at Axanar, amongst other things. You referred to details of his life with which I had not previously been familiar.”
“True,” Kirk said, interested. “Does that mean your knowledge of Garth depends, now, on secondary learning from me on the Enterprise at the start of that particular mission? That the re-training on Mount Seleya involved teaching you what I had told you?”
“Oh?” Kirk was surprised. No point in letting his own feelings about Gol stop him from pushing Spock, from understanding better what exactly had happened on Mount Seleya. If Spock had memories other than those taught to him after the refusion, Kirk needed to be clear about that now. “So what have I got wrong?”
“My understanding of the events at Axanar and the military tactics deployed by Captain Garth derives in large part from a study I independently undertook after the events on Elba Two, Captain.”
Mind focused on his own tactics, on the best strategy to deploy in relation to their joint memories of the Elba Two mission, Kirk was entirely disconcerted. “After Elba Two? I never knew you did that. You didn’t tell me. Care to say why, Spock?”
There was a slight pause and Kirk looked up, enquiring, to see Spock clearly considering the reason for a number of evenings, now long passed, spent at the library computer in his quarters on the Enterprise. It was clearly important for Kirk to understand the rationale for his actions, and Spock, who was able quite clearly to remember one particularly long evening absorbing a number of scholarly texts on the subject of “Garth: The foundation of military tactics in the space age”, found himself uncertain both of what Kirk was asking for and what he, Spock, should say. Was the memory accurate? He could think of no reason to doubt it. He remembered learning about Garth’s upbringing, the early loss of his father, Garth’s youthful innovations in the avant-garde development of military partnerships with alien civilisations, but knew that Kirk’s question was nothing to do with these details and more about the reason for their very clear recording in Spock’s memory. Why had Spock become so absorbed in Garth’s childhood and, above all, in the former commander’s interest in alien life forms? And what, truly, was Kirk asking him now?
He looked at his captain and reached out, less methodically than usual, for a reply.
“Sir, you told that he was required reading at the Academy.”
“Yes,” Kirk said, not really understanding, “but by that token, you would have learned about him then. Not afterwards, on the Enterprise, after Elba Two. What made you look him up? We would have had some time, I guess, en route to the next mission, you were entitled, of course, but why – was it curiosity, after what happened, after meeting him?”
Because if it was, Kirk thought, there might be some mileage in asking Spock whether curiosity was an emotion, whether Vulcans were allowed to exhibit random interest in the histories of people they met around the galaxy.
But Spock had found the answer. He was unsure of its significance, he was unsure what to do with the memory, lying there quite clearly, somewhere between Axanar and the memory of Garth morphing into a facsimile of Kirk on the colony, but he knew, all the same, that it was the answer and in the spirit of the exercise being undertaken between them, he offered it to Kirk.
“In fact, you also gave some indication of the more immediately subjective significance of Captain Garth in terms of your own perspective, Captain.”
He must be getting old. He still didn’t understand. What was Spock trying to say? Only one way to find out.
“I’m sorry, Spock, you’ll have to do better than that. Firstly, I only speak Standard, and secondly, no one has recently re-taught me my life’s memories. What exactly did I say?”
And was completely unprepared for the reply.
“You said, sir, that he had been your hero.”
The two stared at each other. Kirk recovered swiftly, said casually, “Quite right,” and turned to pretend to check some readings on the console. He knew he was passing up on a highly promising opportunity, knew that his self-imposed mission demanded that he follow up the comment, probe Spock about the connection between that throwaway personal aside on the way into the asylum (oh yes, he remembered saying it, that slight feeling of exposure which came with letting down his guard, even in front of Spock) and the Vulcan reading up on Axanar, on a reputation for military strategy renowned the galaxy over and the road to Antos Four. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
He felt as though he’d been given a present from the past, as though Spock, his old, undamaged companion, had reached out from light years away and from half a lifetime ago to give him a piece of their life together he’d never known about at the time. He had told Spock that Garth had been his hero and this, apparently, had been sufficient for the Vulcan to go and study the man who had inspired Kirk, sent him out to space in the first place, been a role model for the person whom Spock himself had chosen to follow. What makes a Vulcan decide to study the life of a Starfleet legend, just because a clue is given that the legend in question holds a key to the emotional dynamic which is his own captain?
Kirk had a nasty feeling that if he pressed Spock now, he would be told that studying the career of a former Starfleet officer who had been influential in the progression of his own commanding officer was a logical step for any dutiful First Officer. Even if there were, instead, a chance for real progress, he preferred to keep the gift he’d just received, untarnished. What were the chances he might actually, some day, get Spock to admit what he’d just said?
He shook himself, slightly, and got back on track.
“Do you remember talking to Garth, at the asylum, about the ethos of the Federation? About the difference between military command and peaceful scientific exploration?”
“Indeed.” Spock sounded as though he were on safer ground. Just wait, thought Kirk, and then regretted the silent taunt, though not entirely. It was, after all, only an exaggerated version of the game he’d been playing with Spock ever since they’d first met. He felt better, suddenly. “Due to his illness, Captain Garth expressed difficulties in understanding the evolution undertaken by Starfleet into its current governance and objectives.”
“That’s right.” He took a breath, saw Spock’s posture alter suddenly, knew that he’d realised what was coming. “I talked about the dream of the early ‘Fleet pioneers. I said that dream made you and me brothers – that was the word I used. Garth challenged you on it and you agreed.”
“My observation at the time was that you spoke figuratively and with undue emotion.”
“Nothing new there, Commander. You always think I speak figuratively and with undue emotion. But you didn’t say that I was wrong. In fact, you agreed with me. I remember you doing so.”
“Captain – I am unsure of the purpose of this conversation. You spoke to Captain Garth of the common purpose which had motivated each of us in service, and I agreed.”
“More to it than that, Spock. In fact, so far as I can remember, Garth told you off – he said you were just my subordinate officer, that there was no place for speaking of a bond beyond that. You’re not going to tell me otherwise. Are you?”
Spock said, mildly,
“In that exchange, Captain Garth also offered me the command of a starship in his own fleet – a fleet, naturally, which had no foundation in reality. As you are aware, he was at the time detained under legislation for the protection of the criminally insane. Are his words relevant to any continuing dynamic or conversation, Captain?”
Hazel eyes met dark opaqueness. The window which had opened up with the unprecedented singularity of You said that he had been your hero was closed tight shut. Fair enough, Spock. Time for a strategic retreat, perhaps, in order for an advance, another day. Forty-eight point three five standard days left, after all. He wasn’t quite ready to let Spock off the hook for the day, though. If he were going to surrender on the question of whether the two of them were brothers, there would be a trade-off or he would go down fighting. Something less edgy. He smiled to himself.
“I’ve got some reading to do on Marillus, Commander, so I’ll give you a rest for a bit. Just one more question, though, before that. Sigma Iotia Two.”
“Stardate 4598.0,” Spock said, promptly, as if relieved to be on safer ground. “A society contaminated by premature contact with the USS Horizon.”
“Do you remember Bela Oxmys, Jojo Krako?”
“Of course. So you remember going to see Jojo Krako with me?”
“You utilised an antique vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.”
“I did, indeed,” Kirk sat back, satisfied. He had got where he wanted to be. “And you hated it. You hated it and you laughed at me.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“That is an unduly emotive description, if you will allow, sir. I admit to having described your handling of the vehicle in critical terms. It did appear, at the time, that you were less than expert. However, given the development of modern transport systems and the nature of your own career – indeed, given your prowess as a pilot before you entered command stream – there is no ignominy in this.”
“No doubt,” Kirk’s smile broadened. “That’s not really the point, though, is it?”
“Mr Spock, I have known you face with equanimity a range of alien beings whose physical powers, general appearance and aggressive hostility would have shattered the courage of lesser men. I have seen you overpowered by force, badly hurt and fighting to the last breath. I have also,” he swallowed, but kept going, “forgive me, viewed a recording of you walking fearlessly into the reactor room in the engineering room of the Enterprise in order to restore the mains engine manually because annihilation imminently threatened the ship and the crew and you saw no other solution but to expose yourself selflessly to an appallingly painful, lonely death.”
Spock gazed back at him, one eyebrow slightly raised, neither admitting nor challenging the accolades, waiting for what was coming.
“So – what was so damn scary about my driving, then?”
“I did not and have not described it in those terms, sir.”
“No? I think, if I remember, that I asked you if you were afraid of cars and you said no, that it was my driving which alarmed you.”
“I believe I indicated that walking would have been preferable. That was an eminently logical suggestion, Captain.”
“Perhaps, if you ignore issues of speed and if you’re prepared to admit to being a nervous passenger. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that you were enjoying telling me that I could do with some driving tuition.”
Spock gave him a level look.
“I think I can tell you exactly what you said,” Kirk said. For the first time in the conversation, he was sure of himself, relaxed in the memory. It occurred to him, then, that it was the equivalent of Spock’s confession about Garth. Before Genesis, Spock had never told him that he had spent hours studying Garth, just because Garth had been Kirk’s hero. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to construct a future out of the past. Because, before Genesis, he had never told Spock how much he had treasured that exchange in a cream-coloured sedan car on a bullet-sprayed street in Sigma Iotia Two. “You said I was an excellent starship commander but as a taxi driver I left much to be desired.”
He looked at Spock and smiled again, quietly.
“Mr Spock, we obey our commanding officers and where appropriate we may even adopt certain cultural and linguistic mores. Would you accept that commenting on my potential as a taxi driver falls into neither behavioural category?” He lifted a hand. “Don’t answer the question. It’s not fair and I don’t need an answer. I just need you to know that I know. And I want to tell you that it’s a good memory. One of my best. I’m glad you still have it, whatever it means to you, and that I got to tell you. That’s all.”
He bent to the monitor in front of him and punched up the report he had been looking for on the Romulan contact. After a while, however, he stole another look at Spock. The Vulcan was studying the readings from the console but he looked up and caught Kirk’s glance and then looked down again. He hadn’t commented on the Sigma Iotia Two memory, had neither agreed nor disagreed, but it didn’t take someone who had shared command with Spock over several galaxies and countless crises to know that the course heading would not be demanding the Vulcan’s full attention. If Spock had been given cause to think, that could only be a good thing. Kirk considered the gains of the day and was just about to chalk it up as a win (Delta Vega had been a resounding defeat but Sigma Iotia Two had been an advance and Elba Two better than a draw) when, almost as though he could hear the human’s thoughts (could he? Kirk wondered) Spock’s head came up again.
“Sir, I appreciate the intent behind these discussions and am fully prepared to continue, it being of clear benefit to me and apparently a welcome use of time from your own perspective. I do have two conditions, though.”
“Proceed,” Kirk said, curiously.
“Firstly, if this is making you uncomfortable in any way, I am content that the conversation should cease.”
“That works both ways, Commander. What was your other point?”
“I suggested before Dr McCoy came on board that the exercise of revisiting former episodes might assist each of us in understanding the other better. I hope that you are retaining this as an objective and not seeing an opportunity only to assist me in re-engaging with my own memories.”
“Would you care to be specific, Spock?”
Spock looked at him squarely.
“I believe that your own attitude to diversity tends to allow you too easily to impute human reactions to those from alien cultures, Captain. You are my commanding officer and it would be illogical not to benefit from your experience of me to understand better my own former interactions and development. However, your perspective is likely to be coloured by your own cultural norms. You might like to consider viewing the adoption of common cultural and linguistic mores as a positive, without prejudicing the integrity of either person’s heritage. That would seem to me a legitimate and appropriate objective.”
You may help me to be Spock, but I will still be Vulcan. Don’t assume you can unpick the past and wash the green blood out of every memory.
If I learn, you learn.
A hundred objections rose to Kirk’s lips and, because justice demanded he accepted Spock’s point, he quieted them.
“You have a deal, Commander. I’m going to wake McCoy.”
“How about we play ‘Twenty Questions’?” McCoy suggested. He sat sideways to the main viewer, studying Spock as the Vulcan checked readings on the console and ran some calculations on the course headings.
“Doctor, it is traditional to ask questions, not to play them.”
Well, he could have scripted that reply.
“Noughts and crosses? Strip poker? Look, Spock, I realise it’s a safe bet none of these figured very highly on the curriculum in terms of that brain-washing you went through back on Vulcan, but let it not be said that your homeland did more for you that your shipmates did in your hour of need. I’m willing and able to teach you the rules of strip poker right now, before Jim wakes up. You’ll never get a better offer.”
It was clear from Spock’s silence that some part of his re-education had at least provided the Vulcan with an awareness of the broad principles of strip poker. McCoy invested a brief amount of time in a form of bemused joy at the mental conjuring of the process which would have involved the transmission of that knowledge by the acolytes of Gol. He watched for a few minutes more as Spock almost visibly ignored him, and then shrugged.
“OK, you win. No strip poker. C’mon, Spock. Talk to me. Is it helping, what you and Jim are working through together?”
His companion turned and McCoy held himself in check not to betray a movement of surprise. He had been expecting his overture to be courteously ignored, as had almost every advance since Spock turned back from following his father on the dusty road from Mount Seleya. Since Your name is Jim and a reclaiming of his place among the crew of the Enterprise which had yet to yield any real sort of dialogue with any of them, perhaps least of all with the ship’s CMO. McCoy’s own view was that Spock might struggle to come to terms with the particular service the doctor had involuntarily rendered him; that there might even be some sort of resonance with regard to the former keeper of his katra. Damn fool culture, McCoy reasoned to himself, any rational modern civilisation is content with a simple medical transplant. But even to himself, his habitual mockery sounded hollow.
Spock’s expression, however, on this occasion, was neither blank nor dismissive. McCoy lacked Kirk’s expertise on the Vulcan’s features, but he knew enough to recognise that Spock looked troubled. Troubled was good, McCoy reasoned. He figured the Vulcan had plenty to be troubled about. Troubled would be, to coin a phrase, a logical reaction. He waited.
But nothing happened. Spock’s face cleared and he said,
“Excuse me, doctor. I must take a reading from the cloaking control,” and McCoy was alone, the Vulcan’s back turned to him at the rear of the main cabin and only the emptiness of space in the main viewer.
Not being prepared to discuss with McCoy the reason for being troubled meant neither that Spock was untroubled nor that he was unaware that he was troubled. It simply meant that he was not prepared to discuss the matter with McCoy.
The day after the events in the Council Chamber, with Kirk restored to command and Spock (without the slightest questioning from anyone) apparently about to accompany him, to follow his captain again back to the bridge of his ship and across the stars, clad in science officer blues, he who had been awarded his own promotion after the encounter with V’Ger – Spock had received a courteous but firm request to attend an appointment with the chief of the Starfleet medical directorate. He presented himself punctiliously, understanding with complete clarity that official procedures required senior ‘Fleet personnel who had suffered extremely public and widely advertised deaths from radiation burns to establish their identity to the satisfaction of independent professional analysis before resuming service as if nothing had happened. The medical examination was hampered by the obvious embarrassment of a consultant psychiatrist who (along with the rest of the inhabitants of Earth) owed his life to his patient, entirely accepted (Holmes-like, in the absence of any probable alternative) that Spock was who he professed to be and yet struggled with the bare concept of the katra, let alone the idea that Spock possessed one and that it had survived Genesis and been reunited with the rest of him by a team of Surak’s devotees half way up a mountain in Vulcan.
The psych had dealt with the interview by over-engaging in the formalities of the process. The professional detachment had slipped only once. He had elicited from Spock a description of the events in the Enterprise engineering room, having first studied the digital recording and familiarised himself with the precise history of what had befallen the Vulcan, in order to test the verisimilitude of Spock’s memory and his particular perspective of the occasion. Understanding, quite suddenly and with a kind of compassionate horror, that the person in front of him retained a vivid memory not only of the excruciating pain he had endured but of the very moment of death, of the loss of companionship and of sensation, he asked,
“Does it haunt you? Do you have nightmares?”
And was met, inevitably, with Spock’s customary rebuttal,
“Vulcans do not dream.”
Kirk, had he been present, and had he been for whatever reason willing to enlighten the physician at the expense of Spock’s privacy, might have explained to him that the phrase “Vulcans do not –“ had an almost infinite range of application and, at the same time, an almost infinite variety of accuracy. Among Kirk’s personal collection, for example, Spock’s once and future captain accepted “Vulcans do not eat meat”, “Vulcans do not speculate” and “Vulcans do not kill without necessity”, had absolutely no respect for “Vulcans do not feel” and was rather unconvinced by “Vulcans do not lie”.
The truth was often that some Vulcans did and some Vulcans didn’t, and Kirk was in a position to know that Spock was often in the minority camp, whatever the function in question.
In this instance, Kirk might have suggested that Spock would have been ashamed of dreaming in general, as an essentially human and emotional pastime in which the followers of T’Lar would have taught him quite firmly he did not indulge. And he might have been ashamed of dreaming of Genesis in particular, because it was a source of horror and pain and fear and despair, and he would have been as likely to admit to it as he would have been to have declared an acquired taste for swimming the freezing waters of San Francisco Bay, with or without a pair of hump-backed whales in tow.
Had Kirk furnished the psychologist with these observations, the consultant would have gained a perspective on Spock which he was, in fact, denied, despite the fact that he certified him (after what he would later describe to his partner as the most unique sixty minute cross-examination and psychometric evaluation of his career) to be both Spock and to be fit for duty. And none of this would have changed the fact that Kirk’s assumptions about Spock and his dreams of Genesis were, in fact, correct.
Vulcans do not dream. Half Vulcans may dream, although in fact Spock rarely encountered the phenomenon. Once, as a small child, he had made the mistake of describing to Sarek a particularly vivid nocturnal imagining. It was not a mistake he made twice, and he had after that begun both consciously and sub-consciously to suppress the instinct, with a success rate he would have estimated at 96.8%. Since Genesis, however, he had fallen repeatedly prey to his baser 3.2%.
He found that meditation provided some level of support against the nightly return to the engine room of his old ship. The disciplines of Gol were still accessible to him, and thirty minutes in a light trance before he slept ensured, after a few nights spent summoning the resource, that although he might still find himself blind and burning, ashamed of seeking the comfort of a human touch denied him, he knew it, even as he experienced it, to be a memory, knew his own self to be a ghost and not a present reality.
What troubled him more, what had passed briefly over his features before he rearranged them in front of McCoy’s inquisitive eyes, was something slightly different. His moment of waking, ever since the Council Chamber and particularly since boarding the Polaris, had been a sensation of hidden colour. Schooled as his mind had been not to dream, Spock had accustomed himself, over the years, to focus his sleeping thoughts on abstract design, generally binary patterns of black and white. This had been the décor of his mind’s repose, just as human custom was to decorate the nursery of a new born child. Yet what he saw now, as consciousness returned at the precise hour dictated, was a hidden colour. He could describe it to himself in no other terms, despite knowing the concept to be illogical. It was an awareness of an actual sensation neither black nor white but some vivid shade, and yet it was not apparent to him but veiled, just out of sight.
It seemed to him that Kirk might be able to help him understand the phenomenon, but he was not at all sure that he wanted to ask him. Spock’s memories of the burning pain of the engine room were very graphic and the binary patterns of his chosen dreams were cool and comforting. The brightly distracting alternative might not be the same pain as the engine room, but the colours were sharp and promised Spock nothing of peace.
On the other hand, Kirk had said, You have a deal, Commander.
And because of that, when McCoy eventually tired of scowling at Spock’s back and disappeared towards the sleeping quarters with a pointed yawn, and when Kirk appeared; when Kirk, in a manner Spock recognised as being utterly characteristic without quite understanding how he knew that, had retrieved from Spock within approximately twenty two seconds precisely the critical data necessary to ensure he was appraised of the situation, and when the muscles in Kirk’s shoulders had, in a gesture Spock also knew was innate to his captain, both relaxed and tensed as if to say No immediate threat to my ship but also I have the con – at this point, Spock looked directly at his captain and said, in the manner of an invitation,
“Sir, may I ask you about the events following our unsuccessful mission to Cestus Three?”
He saw, quite clearly in Kirk’s face, surprised pleasure that Spock had initiated the conversation, followed by an unfocused look of inner searching as Kirk pursued the memory.
“Stardate 3045.6,” Spock furnished, helpfully.
“Cestus Three? Cestus – I remember now. That was Johnny Travers’ outpost – it was destroyed by the Gorn before we got there. God, yes, the Metrons, that asteroid. Gunpowder!” He brooded a little, inwardly, for a minute, on a frustrating memory, and then looked up, clear-eyed.
“Yes, Cestus Three. What about it, Commander?”
Spock spoke very carefully.
“Captain, you pursued the Gorn vessel from Cestus Three with every intention of destroying it. Indeed, given the speed at which you did so, you risked damaging the Enterprise by your actions, which speaks to an aggression and an instinct for violent revenge entirely foreign to the teachings on my planet.”
Kirk’s eyes narrowed.
“Your point being, Mr Spock? I rather think we had this conversation at the time.”
Spock said, levelly, “I am attempting, in response to your invitation, to analyse the command dynamic in terms of the apparent differences between us of culture and ethos, Captain.”
Kirk stared. I don’t understand our friendship, given your tendency to aggression. Had Spock really just said that?
His optimism from the previous day rapidly evaporating, Kirk thought Forty eight days and then Forty seven, now and then What if it’s not enough? Forty seven days, at this rate, might get him somewhere near the first time he had beaten Spock at chess and Spock had been a nanosecond too late to conceal surprise and chagrin. Which had been weeks before Delta Vega. Before You play an irritating game of chess. Before everything which had followed.
He wasn’t ready to give up, though. Not yet. He said,
“You had a ringside seat during my encounter with the Gorn, Spock.”
Spock inclined his head. “The critical developments on the asteroid were relayed by the Metrons to the main viewer of the Enterprise, using technology still not available to Starfleet.”
“McCoy told me afterwards you provided a running commentary on my efforts.”
An eyebrow went up, somewhat rapidly, and Kirk said, feeling his way,
“You figured it out before I did. Potassium nitrate, sulphur, diamonds. You saw it as soon as it was shown on the viewer. McCoy told me.”
Spock regarded him equably with an expression Kirk would once have called smug. He would still call it smug; however, Spock was mistaken if he thought Kirk was trying to placate him through flattery. He grinned to himself and said,
“McCoy said you were cheering me on.” Spock opened his mouth to object, and Kirk continued, swiftly, “OK, he said you were providing remote encouragement.”
“It was naturally my preference that you should be successful in overcoming your adversary.”
“With gunpowder? Against an unarmed opponent? Whom you had correctly (as it turned out) suggested might not have been the predator I thought?”
“Captain – “
“When it comes down to it, you would rather I kill than be killed.”
“Captain. If it gives you satisfaction for me to admit that your life is of value to me, I have no difficulty in doing so. You are mistaken if you believe otherwise.” Their eyes met and held, and something passed between the two men, perhaps a small thing, of no obvious consequence. To Kirk, it was the gossamer thread of a small mooring. He held on to his end of the rope, and waited.
“That has little relevance to the point on which I was inviting discussion. Captain, a review of our acquaintance reveals a tendency on your part to aggression rather more easy and natural than is readily understood within a close working partnership between us, given my own beliefs and cultural heritage.”
“And yet I’ve known you fight, known you hurt, known you kill, Spock. We do it, all of us, in the service. There is no other way. I know – I know it was what kept Sarek from acknowledging you all those years. Because it was your choice, too, in leaving Vulcan.”
Something came into Spock’s eyes, and he bowed his head and then lifted it again.
“Understand, Captain, I am not making any accusation.” Could have fooled me, thought Kirk, wryly, but he was quiet, listening. Somewhere, on some level, he and Spock were really talking to each other. He only wished he knew what they were saying.
“There is a difference, nonetheless,” Spock was continuing. He paused, and then said, “When you and I in the past have encountered difficulties in understanding each other, it seems to me that you have resorted to violence.”
Kirk’s turn to raise his eyebrows sharply, in outrage. Before he could speak, Spock pressed on.
“I refer you to the events at Psi 2000 and Omicron Ceti Three.”
A moment, while Kirk identified the reference and was back in the transporter room, brandishing an iron bar, the idiotic smile on Spock’s face turning by degrees to uncomprehending stony hurt, then, finally, anger. You mutinous, disloyal, computerised, half-breed… What makes you think you’re a man?
“Spock…. All these years later, and you still need me to tell me how hard that was for me?”
“I am merely commenting on your choice of tactics, Captain.”
“I had no choice.”
“That is my point, sir.”
“To coin one of your own phrases, elucidate, Mr Spock.”
“In your position, I would have adopted other means. Any Vulcan would have done so.”
Well, perhaps. Kirk tried, and failed, to imagine Sarek calling Spock an elf with a hyperactive thyroid.
“What would you have done?”
“I might have employed particular mental techniques which would have enabled me to have communicated with you even in an altered state. For example, the Vulcan practice of tal-mayin, which –“
“Spock, please. As I said, I had no choice. I apologise for not spelling out that I would, of course, have had a choice had I been adept at tal-whatever. I’m a flawed human being, Spock. I’m not a Vulcan.”
“As I said, sir, that is my point.”
Kirk’s head jerked back.
“Are you saying that you’re questioning our friendship simply because you are Vulcan and I am human?”
Spock was silent.
“Spock,” and Kirk quietened his impatience, willed his tone to gentleness, “Spock, our differences make us stronger. I listened to you, after we left Cestus Three. You know I did. I had the knife in my hand on that asteroid, after the explosion, and I couldn’t kill the Gorn, because of you. I threw away the damn knife and I let him go because you had made me think there might be another way, that I might be missing something.”
He met Spock’s eyes, and something in them made him grasp the mooring rope again, a little more securely. In Spock, the moment translated itself into a single reflection – he had not known, at the time, that this was why Kirk had spared the Gorn. He held the thought, held the memory, and then Kirk was continuing,
“I’d like to think that, in return, that knowing me has changed you. That’s what friendship means, Spock. We help each other to grow, all of us.”
That was when he remembered again the sharp, painful colours of his non-dream. Why was it that when he tried to do what Kirk wanted, tried to unravel the question of Kirk’s meaning in his life, the memories were of pain? On Omicron Ceti Three, he had grasped the opportunity of tranquillity, and Kirk had blown it sky-high with a call to an allegiance laced with distress and spiked with anger.
Of course, there had been other times. Spock remembered the serene austerity of Gol – Gol where there had been complete refuge from the hand grenades of human conflict. Kirk, still holding on to his mooring rope, almost caught the look of white robes in his eyes and both men, not quite knowing that the thought had crossed between them, shied away from Mount Seleya. Not yet, thought Kirk, not now. Where was Spock, really? Had he heard any of what Kirk had said?
In fact Spock, letting go of Omicron Ceti Three, was remembering his last words to Leila Kalomi. Kirk had not been present and this was his memory, not the captain’s. He had told her he had a responsibility to that man on the bridge and he had talked of self-made purgatories. He turned, as if to escape the memory of his own words, and because that would have been illogical, he converted the movement into an inspection of the power readings, and Kirk let him go, knowing they had both had enough.
“You’ve got exactly ten minutes left to talk to me properly,” McCoy said. Kirk looked up, taken aback and then laughed. One of the advantages of a sleeping rota involving a Vulcan was that you could be sure to the minute exactly when he was going to emerge from his sleeping quarters. In the case of a human, you might be inclined to lower your voice for the last half hour of the shift, in order not to disturb a waking dream or not to be over-heard if the subject of the conversation were the sleeper in question. In the case of Spock, you could put serious money on him sleeping up until the point he decided to wake up.
A combination of loyalty and irritation had decided Kirk not to spend the shift with McCoy discussing Spock behind his back. He felt the stirrings of a long allegiance to the Vulcan (empirical memory or not) which inhibited any such undertaking, and in any event, he was fairly sure the conversation would fail to soothe. He had determinedly steered the conversation towards McCoy’s family and to the lives of mutual friends, both among the Enterprise crew and elsewhere. McCoy had seemed happy enough to follow the cues and Kirk had himself relaxed and enjoyed the banter and gossip. Just as he glanced at the chronometer, though, and mentally braced himself for the Vulcan’s entrance, McCoy’s comment cut across the space between them like whiplash, and it became apparent he’d been biding his time.
“Spock will be up in a minute,” he said, playing for time but not bothering to pretend he didn’t know what McCoy was talking about.
McCoy didn’t bother to acknowledge the comment.
“Woke up half way through the last shift. Heard you talking about Omicron Ceti Three. What the devil brought that up? Talk about old wounds. You couldn’t have come up with something easier? Like radiation poisoning, or being rejected by his father? Why the hell pick Leila Kalomi?”
Kirk was taken aback.
“You think she was that big a deal to Spock?”
The doctor was silent for a minute. Then he said, in a tone so serious it belied the meaning of his words, so that Kirk almost did a double take,
“You know I talk up a storm about Romulan ale, Jim, but I’m a Georgian boy at heart and where I come from, we like mint julep. My Uncle Jack used to make the best juleps for miles around. He used to swear it was all about getting exactly the right amount of bourbon, but not my granddad – he used to say it was about picking the mint leaf so fresh it was still growing in the bourbon. Our neighbour Johnny Joe Mason, who kept the local bar, said it was neither of those things, he said you had to make sure the water was close to frozen and you had to serve the julep in a silver cup, and anything else was second rate.”
Kirk stared at him. There was a small silence in the cabin, and then McCoy looked back at his captain with a small smile on his lips which entirely lacked his normal irony.
“You never got infected by the spores, did you, Jim?” And, as Kirk shook his head slightly, he went on, “Thing is, I ended up under a tree with a mint julep in my hand. That’s what happened. That’s mostly what I remember about Elias Sandoval’s people. That incredible heat, and a drink that tasted of home, a thousand thousand miles from Georgia.”
Kirk remembered his silent reflection, at the start of the mission, to the effect that McCoy was being himself and Spock was being someone else. He changed his mind. McCoy had seen that Spock had decided to be someone entirely different and clearly he thought he’d join the party. The officer in front of Kirk with a slightly sad smile on his face was no one Kirk knew very well, though it suddenly occurred to him that Natira of Yonada might have recognised him. And then he realised what McCoy was saying to him.
“You’re saying that the spores brought out something inherent to you?”
“Spock called them a happiness pill, seem to remember, but one man’s happiness is another man’s torture. Reckon it’s a highly individual thing, paradise. Didn’t see Spock running for mint juleps, did you? More’s the pity, would have done him the world of good. No – he wanted to fool around with Ms Kalomi in a rural idyll.”
“What are you saying, Bones – that she was that important to him? I remember her being a sweet girl, but – Spock? I don’t think so.”
“Jim, when we left orbit, when it was all over, do you remember what he said? Because I do. He said that for the first time in his life, he’d been happy.”
Yes, he remembered that. It had bothered him at the time, and he’d tucked it away to worry over it, but Spock had seemed normal enough, over chess, the next couple of days and then they’d got the call to go to Janus Vl, and he’d never called the Vulcan on it. That’s what happened, on a starship, it wasn’t that you didn’t care but that you had conversations scheduled and then life got in the way – life, the Klingons, the Romulans – or, in that particular case, an overgrown, hyperactive, egg-laying armchair on a diet of underground boulders. But then, he reflected, Spock had never told him that he’d gone off and read up on Garth, and he’d never told Spock that stalling a sedan car on Sigma Iotia ll, for all that it lacked efficacy in comparison with any other single form of transport he’d ever used, was one of his fondest memories. Sometimes, you got the chance to have a conversation second-time round, half a lifetime later.
Kirk brought himself back to the present.
He wondered now what that conversation might have looked like. What was it he had been going to say to Spock? Why had it bothered him?
He said, slowly,
“It might have been the first time in his life that he was happy. But I think I took it, at the time, as being more about happy than about Ms Kalomi. That it said more about him than about her.”
“For what it’s worth, I agree,” McCoy said, his gaze mild. “That’s what I meant, Jim, by different people’s paradise. I wanted to be home, with my mint julep. But Spock didn’t want anything to do with home, seems to me. He wanted a loving relationship, and peace and quiet, and maybe a sense of belonging, of belonging to someone. Seems to me, what he wanted was a long way from Mount Seleya and that was what he meant by it being for the first time in his life.”
There was a beat of silence between them, and then Kirk said, more brusquely than he had intended,
“But it wasn’t real, Bones. I had to bring him out of it – had to bring all of us out of it. We weren’t there to drink mint juleps or make love al fresco. We were there to do a job.”
“Not saying it wasn’t the right thing to do. You sure, though, that was all that was going on?”
“What are you trying to say, Bones?”
“Look, I saw the damage, Jim. We all did, once we beamed back up. Looked to me like something very big and nasty with an appetite for bulkheads had been having a picnic in the transporter room.”
Kirk grinned, reluctantly. “Vulcan muscle, I’m afraid, not human. I’m not in that league.”
“But it was your fight, Jim – you provoked him, you made him go for you. I can’t think what it must have taken – hard enough to get a rise out of him at the best of times, let alone when he’s spaced out and spore-happy.”
Kirk frowned, discomfited.
“I’m not especially proud of what I did, and I said as much to Spock, just now. But the end justified the means, in this instance – look, what is this, Bones? This is ancient history.”
“My point is, Captain, that you weren’t just doing what you could do to get the mission back on track and your crew on the ship. You were blazing mad at Spock.”
“You felt betrayed.” Their eyes met; Kirk’s hazel gaze narrowed. “Go on, admit it.”
“I’m admitting nothing. What’s your point, doctor?”
“What’s my point? My point is that you couldn’t get a piece of paper between you and Spock, those days. The man was at your shoulder, backing up your orders, standing next to you on the bridge or fighting by your side and when that wasn’t going on, you were beating him at chess. Suddenly, he stops obeying orders, stages a mutiny and is having a wonderful time without a thought for you or your ship. Telling me you weren’t furious? Hurt? I think some of that stuff you came out with in the transporter room came from an angry place, Jim, if you really want to know what I think. I think that fight was as much a release for you, from that, as it was for Spock to get rid of the spores.”
We’ll see about you deserting my ship, he had snarled. He opened his mouth to object, and closed it. McCoy was right. He had been livid with Spock. Even all these years later, he remembered it, like the touch of heat.
McCoy was watching him closely. Following up on his win, he said, with the air of one nearing the home stretch, eyes on the finishing line, “And it’s just the same now, isn’t it?”
“I’m not angry with Spock. I’m trying to help him.”
“You’re trying to get him to compromise, Jim, and he doesn’t like compromise.”
“What do you mean, compromise?”
“Well, this is how I see it. He’s half human, half Vulcan. That’s a hard divide to bridge. ‘Course, you know Vulcans are mad as hatters, from an Earth perspective - any normal human being would refer them to psychiatric treatment within ten minutes of meeting one. Must be like being half elephant, half chimpanzee, when you think about it. Completely incompatible.” Kirk wondered which was Vulcan of the elephant and the chimp, but decided not to ask. “I guess you have to hand it to Spock. His way of dealing with it is logical after a fashion (and God help him, the man would think that was a compliment). His solution is to go one way or the other – Ms Kalomi, who meant he could forget about his Vulcan half, or Gol, where he could forget about being human. You? You’re the one he’ll follow into hellfire, and you keep dragging him out of those simple, easy places. You keep telling him he has to learn to compromise, he has to live in the middle, learn to be half-and-half. And when he beats a retreat from that, to Gol or to Omicron Ceti Three, it makes you hopping mad.”
Kirk stared back at his friend and the accusation lay between them. After a beat, he said, softly,
“And if that were all true, you’d agree with me. You’d want him to be himself, to be the best of both worlds, the way I do.”
McCoy shrugged, lightly, and gave a half smile.
“Just wanted you to admit it, Jim. ‘Cause that’s what’s going on here.”
“Meaning you don’t think Spock needs help?”
“Help? More than you’re qualified to give, Captain, and possibly you’re not the best person to do it. Put it this way. From what I understand, you got a face full of spores, just the same as we all did. But it didn’t work on you. Given a choice between paradise and the Enterprise, the two of you made different choices. Which is funny, really. Wonder if you’ve ever thought that one through. Bet you haven’t.” And looked round as there was a movement from the sleeping quarters. “Time’s up. Just as well. You can be quite tiring company, you know that?”
Kirk opened his mouth to protest, and then shut it thoughtfully.
Spock finished sending an encrypted report to HQ and confirmed to Kirk that he had done so. His companion nodded, but said nothing, which had been a pattern for the duration of their shift together. Spock watched him for a while, and then said,
“Captain, for the past three days you have engaged me in a review of past incidents in order to explore the nature and perspective of my memory. Today you do not seem to be so inclined and something is pre-occupying you.”
Kirk gave him a half-smile which belied a greater satisfaction. He wondered if he had the answer to part of his question - once you took away memory, and then you taught a person what had happened to them… who were you, really? He was on a mission to retrieve his friendship with Spock, to get the Vulcan to acknowledge the personal perspective of the history between them, but that was not the same as whether Spock was, in fact, Spock. This was not the Spock of the Gol years, the start of the VGer mission. That Spock would never have reached out to him, have said, as this one just had, Is something wrong? And that, Kirk reminded himself, given the devastation of the reactor room and of Don’t grieve, Admiral was a gift beyond all expectation.
It wasn’t the same as having his friend back. But it was a start.
“I was thinking of Sevrin’s people,” he confessed. “Do you remember, Spock? That boy, Adam. And Chekov’s Irina. Searching for Eden.”
“Stardate 5832.3, the crew of the Aurora,” Spock confirmed. “What is the present relevance of that particular episode, Captain?”
“Another paradise, that’s all. I remember at the time you were the one who sympathised with their quest, understood what drove them. You on a quest of your own, Spock?” It was said lightly, but with the faintest hint of a challenge.
“My recollection of events at that time were that you were troubled by my association with the group of young people,” Spock said. His eyes met Kirk’s and Kirk’s reaction was immediate.
“Is that what they taught you, T’lar’s people? They taught you that I found it difficult? Do you remember?”
Spock’s expression tuned inwardly, and he said, as if reaching for the answer,
“Your reaction to the dynamic with Sevrin’s followers permeates my memory of that episode, Captain, just as Sevrin’s irrationality does, and the loyalty of his group. The outward manifestation of the emotions of all those with whom I have associated in the past forms part of my recollections. That is inevitable and logical and not refuted. Vulcans, on the other hand –“
“- have no emotions,” Kirk finished. “We’ll take that one as read, shall we?” All the same, he felt encouraged, once more. There seemed to be some sort of barrier between Spock and access to his own historic emotions, but the nearer he came to understanding the emotions of others, surely it would help him to reach his own. And, judging by his confession about Garth, the barrier was not impermeable. He said, curiously,
“So, tell me about me being troubled.”
Spock’s eyes met his again, with the clarity of a simple truth that does not perceive a need to dissemble.
“You did not value the actions or motivations of Sevrin’s followers and you were challenged by the fact that I found it comparatively straightforward to communicate with a sect who opposed your way of life and whom you openly despised.”
He was taken aback, completely, and then his sense of humour re-established itself and his mouth twitched.
“Well, I’m glad that you’ve been able to reclaim your conversational style, Mr Spock. It’s always been of great value to me to know that I have a First Officer who can be relied upon to give an honest evaluation of any given situation, without fear of offence.”
“Do I assume from that comment that I have caused offence? I intended only to answer your question.”
“You’re right,” Kirk said, ignoring the question Spock had asked and answering the one he hadn’t voiced, “I found it difficult to like them and I didn’t understand why it was so easy for you. You of all people. I didn’t like them because they seemed so – I don’t know, so immature, so irresponsible. So emotionally self-indulgent. And I expected you to feel the same way because you are the most intellectually fastidious person I know.”
Spock’s eyebrow rose.
“I am less easily affected by dysfunctional emotional behaviour, given that I have lower thresholds and lower expectations in that regard than you do,” he said, and Kirk failed to smother the grin this time. Spock might as well have said, You all look the same to me. He found himself hoping that his old friend was sufficiently present to enjoy the banter, that it wasn’t just Kirk, on his own, catching echoes of the person he used to know, the person who would have delivered that line deliberately. This time round, he wasn’t quite sure. Spock was continuing,
“As for the intellectual approach, I do not deny that the search for what Sevrin called Eden has always been of interest to me. It is a myth which can be found in a very large number of otherwise unconnected races and cultures. The possible origins are therefore fascinating.”
“Nothing more personal than that?”
He saw Spock hesitate slightly before he answered,
“A former companion of mine was obsessed by this legend and gave his life to its pursuit.”
Not an answer Kirk was expecting, but nor was it where he was going, so he ignored the words and pushed past – a decision he would regret six months later. It was not the first time Spock had offered him a prescient signpost and he had taken a different turning, and it would not be the last.
“Are you looking for Eden, Spock?”
Once more, Gol hovered between them, unspoken. Spock was silent, then said,
“Sir, there are always possibilities.” Kirk winced, inwardly, at the last time he himself had spoken those words, in memory of Spock. He wondered if Genesis would stop haunting him only at the point of truly regaining his old partnership with the Vulcan. “Would you not, in turn, care to admit that it is unduly restrictive to dismiss philosophies which do not accord with your own beliefs?”
Kirk was more surprised than offended.
“Is that how you see me? I think I’m more open-minded than that. I admit to not having had much sympathy with Sevrin. I think it would be unfair to draw a generalisation.”
“Would you care to elucidate?”
Kirk thought back to oh, Herbert, you are stiff – his own response, wholly ironic at the time I shall try to be less rigid in my thinking. His frustration at having to leave the diplomacy to Spock, his quick grasp of Sevrin’s insanity as an explanation, a way out. And then his first sight of the planet – Is this what they believed in? That I can understand. His vain attempt to save Sevrin from death and destruction and, finally, how he had let Chekov go to say his farewell to Irina.
“I’m happy to admit that I learned from your handling of the situation. Because you saw them differently, I tried to do so, too. I was honestly sorry for them, at the end, I mean above and beyond what happened to Adam and Sevrin – I discovered that I’d wanted them to find what they were seeking for. But it wouldn’t have been for me, and I guess I found it difficult that it might have been, for you. The Enterprise was what I wanted. Guess you were less rooted there than I thought.”
“Captain, you are overlooking the possibility that I might have been both a committed and dedicated officer on the bridge and have the intellectual curiosity to be interested in hypothetical alternatives.”
He had the sensation, then, that they were both slightly missing each other. He wasn’t really answering Spock’s questions and Spock wasn’t really answering his. Perhaps that would be the case until he took his courage in both hands and tackled the Gol years. The conversations with McCoy and Spock had shaken him, left him seeing, for the first time, a conflicted person whose immediate needs were best served as First Officer of the Enterprise but who was still searching for his true calling, had done so throughout the five year mission, had looked for it in peaceful Edens and the sterile tranquillity of Gol.
But that wasn’t how he remembered Spock. It was too simplistic. The essence of Spock was the conflict within him and the essence of what he had achieved, of everything that had drawn Kirk to him in the first place, was the way he had managed that conflict and its inherent contradictions. If it were true that tension is necessary for creativity, insight and perspective, Spock had carried it around with him in spades all his life, little wonder his reputation was rightly galactic.
Because, of course, there was violence in Spock, even if buried deep. He was back there, suddenly, in the unforgiving sands of the Vulcan arena, Spock’s face contorted above him in the drive to kill. He shuddered, and reached for a lighter memory – Spock on Janus Vl, discovering that the Horta was right next to Kirk, forgetting instantly about the preservation of an ancient species in the interests of science Kill it, Captain, quickly. Your life is in danger. You can’t take the risk. It had been he, Kirk, who had tempered that decision, had insisted on compassion first. He felt better, suddenly.
“Ever had a mint julep, Spock?”
“A mint julep is an alcoholic beverage, traditionally consumed in the southern states of America. Its ingredients are bourbon, sugar, water and mint and it is a particular favourite of Dr McCoy.”
“I asked if you’ve had one.”
“I have not.”
“Well, assuming we get to Romulus and back in one piece, I’ll treat you.”
Spock lifted an inevitable eyebrow but said nothing and, tacitly, both men turned to the console and to the mission. As he bent over the readings, a memory darted in and out of Kirk’s mind; he pursued it and found it – Miramanee, the obelisk, a paradise of his own. He had known the same temptation, of course, had succumbed – though in an altered state. Did that bring him and Spock closer? He thought of the logs, McCoy’s description of Spock’s dogged stubbornness, fifty nine sleepless days on impulse power in order to be there in time to save Kirk’s life. And here he was himself, forty five days left on his way to find a missing agent and his missing friend. Had Spock studied the symbols on the obelisk as obsessively as he was reading the clues in the Vulcan’s words and in his expression? Spock had said, on Mount Seleya, You came back for me, and he had replied, You would have done the same for me. It seemed that this was their pattern. It was a comforting thought, and he held on to it, together with a smile at the thought of Spock with a mint julep, as McCoy came into the main cabin, grumbling lightly.
“Did you let your parents know about this mission?” Kirk asked, suddenly. At the start of his shift with Spock, they had picked up transmissions from a nearby planet sufficiently close to the Neutral Zone to have been the site of more than one Starfleet skirmish in the past. He had reflected idly out loud on a long passed incident involving the Potemkin which had occurred during the five year mission and which he had remembered discussing with Spock at the time. It turned out that Spock’s recollection of the politics surrounding the event was, unsurprisingly, excellent, and the two had fallen into a familiar debate on military strategy, the easier for being entirely impersonal and so redolent of evenings spent over chess in Kirk’s cabin that Kirk had found no appetite for disturbing the peace with another foray into his self-imposed mission. Talk moved on, however, to their own situation: the Polaris; the missing Colton; Marillus, his Romulan contact. Wesley’s pre-mission briefing drifted into Kirk’s conscious, and his own preparations, the messages left for the ship’s bridge crew and for his family, and he suddenly wondered about what Spock had left behind.
“This mission is classified, Captain.”
“Yes, but didn’t you at least let them know that you would be out of contact for a few months?”
“An absence of contact between us for that duration of time is entirely routine and the information would not have been expected,” Spock said. Kirk reflected that the permanent absence of contact of the Genesis weeks might have changed this arrangement and said, very gently,
“Perhaps recent events might see a change in communication in your family.”
“I see no reason to anticipate such a development.”
Kirk wasn’t so sure. As I recall, I opposed your enlistment in Starfleet. It is possible that judgment was incorrect. Your associates are people of good character. That had been a long way from Babel and the council on the admission of Coridan to the Federation. He remembered Sarek’s forbidding, regal bearing, the first time they had met, his own naïve attempts to force a dialogue between Spock and his father, his understanding that his friendship with Spock had entirely failed to prepare him for dialogue with a full Vulcan, and an estranged one, at that.
In fact, thinking of it now, meeting Sarek had shown him the extent of the compromise Spock had made, in living among humans. And, conversely, how different Spock must always have been, growing up on Vulcan.
“Spock,” he said now, following a train of thought, “why did you never tell me about your parents?”
“Specify,” came the inevitable response. Kirk was less convinced than ever that any specification whatsoever was necessary, but was finding that there are some games which are easier to play when you have forty four days in hand.
“Well, you tell me – specifically. We’re in orbit round Vulcan. I’ve got half the bridge crew in formal dress uniforms, which always somehow inhibits any normal behaviour and shortens everyone’s fuse by several light years. I have McCoy acting like I’ve asked him to wear chainmail, and the basis of his diplomatic strategy is that the entire conundrum will be solved if he can somehow manage to lift three fingers in the air in an imitation of a ta’al comparable only to that time I caught Uhura trying to teach Sulu and Chekhov old Earth sign language when Scotty had been overly liberal with the Scotch at the bridge crew Christmas party. I’ve got over a hundred delegates from God knows how many Federation planets, including a good number of ambassadors, in a pleasantly diverse range of colours, shapes and sizes, and a whole range of reasons why a third of them want to kill another third so that the remaining third can argue over whose fault it was and why it means they get enhanced territorial rights as a result. And you wait till your parents are actually on board my ship, so that I can make it clear in front of anyone who’s listening (including, of course, Sarek and Amanda themselves) that the captain of the Enterprise doesn’t know that the key influential figure in the whole damn shooting match is his First Officer’s father.”
A small silence materialised while Kirk drew breath and realised how long he had waited to say all that.
“Plus, you know, Spock,” he added, in more conciliatory tones, “that it might have been friendly to have dropped it into the conversation. I like to think it’s the sort of personal detail I would have wanted to share with you about my life. Granted that it’s unlikely my mother would have been the Vulcan ambassador, or any other ambassador. Instead, I’d be happy to share with you that she twice won a state rodeo competition and is still the only woman in Iowa to have done so on consecutive years.”
Spock’s ability to ignore Kirk’s more random dialogue appeared to have survived the fal-tor-pan intact.
“It is evident to me that the range of personal detail which humans choose to bring to the attention of others exceeds that which would be the preference of a Vulcan in similar circumstances.”
Kirk gave his First a hard look. Not even Spock was going to pretend that this wasn’t a blatant evasion of the question. Still, he thought – forty four days – and decided to play along.
“It’s what friends do, Spock,” he said, blandly, not expecting a response and failing, as a result, to be disappointed. He eyed up the Vulcan, took a breath and went on, “Remind me again why you read up on Garth, after Elba Two?”
Spock stiffened, almost imperceptibly. Looking at him with some sympathy, Kirk thought that the Vulcan was regretting that moment of confidence on Day Two, and then he said, levelly,
“In my view, my ability to provide the most effective support to the ship’s commanding officer was likely to be enhanced by increasing my knowledge of relevant history and personal influences.”
Not quite the same as You said that he had been your hero but Kirk had asked for it. Nodding, as if to accept that he was backing Spock into a corner, he asked,
“And would you not accept, by the same token, that the fact of my First Officer being the son of the Vulcan Ambassador would have been of similar assistance to me?”
He watched the Vulcan curiously, wondering what the next subterfuge would be. Even as it occurred to him that the very act of concealment was its own admission, Spock surprised him by declining to feint.
“I was not disposed to reveal the information at that time, sir.”
“Not good enough, First Officer,” Kirk said, with a sort of gentle inexorability.
There was a brief silence, during which Kirk declined to study the readings on the console or pretend he was doing anything other than waiting for an answer. And after a few seconds, Spock turned to him slowly with the air of one about to give voice to a communication of more moment than Vulcans do not... Kirk stilled.
“Sir, internal interrogation of my own memories suggests to me that youthful experiences had resulted in a degree of conflict relating to personal connections on Vulcan and that at the time of embarking on a career in Starfleet it might have been logical to have developed a differentiated approach to former and future associates.”
Kirk willed himself not to react. He schooled his features not to betray the slightest visible response to Spock’s words. It was ridiculous, utterly ridiculous for a seasoned officer of considerable renown, former Starfleet Chief of Operations, foremost military commander of his generation, to be considering revelations from his own First Officer exactly in the manner of one approaching an untamed wild animal, but that was the image which flashed, unbidden, into Kirk’s mind. He was aware of an ancient instinct not to rush, to make himself open and receptive to what he was being given - an unlooked for confidence from a source he had hitherto expected to take to the hills, showing only a clean pair of heels at the first sign of personal questions.
Was it possible that this Spock might, on one level, be more inclined to reveal parts of his history precisely because of a level of detachment from them which meant that he might examine them objectively, almost in tandem with Kirk, as though considering events which had happened to someone else entirely? Before Genesis, certainly during the five year mission, Kirk could not have conceived of a conversation with his First which would have involved Spock making the revelation he had just offered. I had a conflicted and lonely childhood which gave rise to real difficulties with my family, so when I joined Starfleet I decided on a fresh start. I wanted to keep my worlds apart.
And he remembered, again, McCoy’s words from the day before. You’re trying to get him to compromise, Jim, and he doesn’t like compromise. His solution is to go one way or the other.
If McCoy’s analysis were correct (and Kirk was far from convinced it was), what did that make the right thing to do now? Only one way to go, he reasoned, and that was wherever his instinct led him. Kirk was a starship captain, his life was about exploratory and military advance, so the only way to go was always forward.
He said, gently,
“I understand that, Spock. But that was before, wasn’t it?”
“Please elucidate, Captain.”
“Well, before you and I met, for a start. You embarked on a career in Starfleet, as you put it, a hell of a long time before we met. By the time I joined the Enterprise you had already had well over a decade to accommodate your past within your adult life. And we worked together, we were friends, for years before the conference on Coridan, before I first met Sarek. I understand the difficulty, Commander. But surely either friendship or duty must have persuaded you that the logical thing to do would have been to talk to me about it?”
He wondered whether he was pushing too hard. He hadn’t expected to end up here from asking Did you let your parents know about this mission? But you played the cards to hand and there was still over an hour till McCoy was scheduled to wake up. Besides, another truth was that much as he and Spock had been shooting the breeze, in a blessed familiarity rather like revisiting a former home you never thought you’d see again, it was impossible to do so without bumping up against the present, just as walking around the house you had grown up in would involve a complex mixture of same old (the view from the bedroom window, the dimensions of the living room) and the reminder of time passing (the new kitchen, the fact that the magnolia tree in the garden had breathed its last and left a gap behind).
Affectionate nostalgia received an abrupt knock with Spock’s next words.
“In my view, sir, then and now, your belief that you understand the difficulty may result from an over-confident analysis of the situation.”
It felt less like a wild horse taking to the hills and more like it had settled on its haunches and corrected the way Kirk was holding out the halter, but he swallowed the reaction and put the halter down.
“Your turn to elucidate, First Officer.”
Whether Spock had truly a limited understanding of the distancing effect of informing Kirk that his understanding of his friend was less perfect than he thought, or whether in fact it had been (like Kirk’s words earlier “and you wait till your parents are actually on board my ship…”) something he had wanted to say for a long time, Kirk was unsure. Spock was no less certain with regard to his own response to Kirk’s request to elucidate, but he looked at the hazel invitation and knew himself to speak from an old compulsion as he said,
“Sir, I served for many years as the first and only Vulcan officer in Starfleet. The value that you placed on my contributions to the command team of the Enterprise was and is a matter for no little appreciation on my part. It is nevertheless the fact that the true difference between your approach to my background and the approach adopted by the doctor amounts to little more than methodology. It was always clear to me that you regarded my differences as a personal choice rather than a cultural norm and also that you perceived as entirely alien an officer who had in fact made profound adaptations in order to serve in Starfleet. It was not evident to me, either before you met my parents or, indeed, after that point, that you had any true understanding of the nature of the uncompromised Vulcan ethos.”
The two regarded each other whilst Kirk allowed himself to hear Spock’s words. He quelled an angry instinct to challenge, knowing the truth behind the accusation in Spock’s last sentence, realising that he could hardly claim otherwise given his own earlier reflections on his first encounter with Sarek. He took a breath, let it out and said,
“Perhaps some of that is fair. But Spock – how the hell was I supposed to understand if you didn’t talk to me? Don’t you think it might have been easier for me to meet your parents if I had understood better?”
He was back in engineering with Amanda.
It sounded more like a command.
Of course. He’s a Vulcan. I’m his wife.
Spock was right. He had been utterly unprepared. Presiding over a diplomatic mission, with a difficult decision at stake and the paramount need for respect for diversity, he had heard the words of his own First Officer’s mother about the dictates of her husband, and tolerance had fled. Might it have been easier had he known in advance? Might it have been easier if those words had not been spoken by the parent of the person who had come to mean the most to him? Was it because he needed to feel an empathy for Spock, that he would struggle more with evidence of difference which he could have accepted more easily in the life of someone less significant to him? He reflected on his reaction to other patriarchal societies (Droxine on Ardana, the choices Eve had made on Rigel 12) and knew himself to have been untroubled by the differences, precisely because the individuals hadn’t mattered to him.
He doubted Spock would be comforted by this reflection.
And Spock gave him the truth.
“I had no evidence that you would find it anything other than challenging to appreciate the nuances of my upbringing and of my parents’ way of life, Captain, and it did not occur to me that the impediment would give rise to any practical difficulties. I calculated that the probability that you would not encounter each other during the five year mission was 258 to one.”
It was too hard to tell you and I figured you were never going to meet.
The hardest thing for Kirk to swallow in this particular admission was the fact that Spock, in working out a strategy to keep Kirk and his parents apart, had only factored in the five year mission. It would not have required a person of Spock’s intelligence and his propensity for calculating random figures of probability to have arrived at a different formula in relation to the possibility of a permanent lack of acquaintance – in relation to the likelihood of the Vulcan Ambassador never encountering the man whose Starfleet career, even in the early years of the five year mission, was always going to be meteoric. Kirk had known, almost from the first days on the Enterprise, long before he could have articulated exactly what Spock meant to him, that the Vulcan was somehow a permanent part of his life, that whatever time and space and the dictates of Starfleet HQ would bring, that this would always be so. A conviction clearly less than mutual – as was evidenced, of course, by Spock departing for Gol at the end of the mission. Once again, Kirk shied away from the thought. Later for Gol. He still had forty four days.
He wondered, though, about the odds of 258 to one. Spock’s ability to calculate fabricated odds of probability to several decimal points had always been, as far as Kirk was concerned (not that he had ever challenged Spock on the matter) a private tease, a way of softening the more sober moments on the ship or the more severe instances of Vulcan commentary by the nearest Spock would come to a standing joke. How much was the Vulcan aware of the barbed nature of some of these present exchanges and how much could Kirk construe 258 to one as a peace offering?
And Spock himself, empirical memory or not, was also back on the Enterprise, en route to Babel. He had watched Kirk with his parents, seeing all too clearly the rejection and alienation on Kirk’s face and listening with an almost visceral discomfort to Kirk’s clumsy attempts to make peace between Spock and his father. Nothing in the encounter had inclined him to regret his earlier silence to Kirk, nothing had been anything other than profoundly painful to Sarek’s son and to the First Officer of the Enterprise and nothing had escaped him as he had tried, with an utter lack of success, to ease the inner turmoil through meditation, during a brief time off duty in that first, difficult day.
His face remembered something before his conscious mind, then, the pain (emotional rather than physical) of the blow his mother had delivered to him, her appeal to him, and how he had turned away. There must be some part of me in you, some part that I still can reach. If being Vulcan is more important to you, then you’ll stand there speaking rules and regulations from Starfleet and Vulcan philosophy and let your father die. And I’ll hate you for the rest of my life.
She had told Kirk that Vulcan was a better way, but she was as conflicted as her son in some ways and he had always known that. She had said in his quarters than human was not a dirty word, and he had shut the sound out, said, How can you have lived on Vulcan so long, married a Vulcan, raised a son on Vulcan, without understanding what it means to be a Vulcan? Perhaps, had Kirk heard him, it would have provided some comfort after Kirk’s difficulty with Amanda’s bland first words to him – He’s a Vulcan. I’m his wife. If Spock had been given a choice, after Genesis, illogical though it was to contemplate such a thing, he would have chosen some memories to have been excluded from the fal-tor-pan process, and one such comprised his words to Amanda as Sarek lay critically ill. He had told Kirk once, on Psi 2000, that some of his deepest pain had been his failure to nurture and support the humanity in her. Strange that only now, looking back across the years, he realised that she had equated Vulcan philosophy with the Starfleet handbook as twin refuges – something otherwise only McCoy had seen. McCoy and perhaps also the man now in front of him. But he had chosen not to listen, perhaps because she had reminded him of their shared grief during his lonely childhood – he had not been prepared to discuss it, then of all times, and she had said Go to him and he had said I cannot and she had hit him. They would have had to live with that fallout for the rest of their lives, without Kirk’s intervention which had allowed him to save Sarek’s life and restored both his parents to him. Which meant, perhaps, that there were more important things than understanding Vulcan culture.
He remembered, suddenly, his waking dreams, that sense of hidden colour, almost out of sight. The bright shade was more visible, now, and he was aware at the same time of the razor sharp edges. Again, he found himself wanting to retreat from Kirk’s forty eight day journey and again he found it in himself to follow the agreed direction.
Kirk watched his friend’s face and had some sense of inner struggle. He had always known that the Coridan conference would have been a rite of passage for Spock, an unlooked-for and unwanted gateway to a new mutual awareness for those in his life he had tried to keep apart. Quite how hard that had been, he had never known; they had never spoken of it. It was as though the blood transfusion Spock had given Sarek in sickbay had been, at the same time, a letting out of the past, like the ancient witch doctor practices of which Spock had always accused McCoy. Blood-letting, the release of old poison.
He should never have let it go. He should have taken Sarek and Amanda and the other diplomats to the council at Babel and arranged joint sick leave for Spock and himself and sat down for two days with a chess board and a bottle of brandy and made the Vulcan talk to him.
And he should have told him the rest, too. He should have said that he had told Amanda about his affection for Spock, that it had felt awkward and almost, strangely, disloyal; that he had felt both a strong warmth for Spock’s mother and a profound bewilderment that this woman, bred on Earth in the twenty third century, the mother of his brilliant and gifted First Officer, could obey her husband’s orders and accept the estrangement of her husband and son as a logical price to pay. Amanda had, at a single blow, revealed the depths of Spock’s unhappy childhood and corroborated McCoy’s reiteration of Kirk’s view that Spock’s best destiny was compromise (neither human nor Vulcan; at home nowhere except Starfleet). And, more oddly, had almost won his sympathy for Sarek. Amanda had said Sarek wanted Spock to follow his teachings, as Sarek followed the teachings of his own father. And Kirk had been surprised because he had, in fact, understood this – because part of the bewildering, extraordinary, transcendental joy of being given command of the Enterprise had been the look on his own father’s face and the knowledge, deep within, that he had made his father proud of him, that he had followed in his footsteps.
He looked at Spock now, and suddenly saw Sarek’s features in his son’s face. Funny how that happened, sometimes. You would think that there was no resemblance, but then a person could turn, or smile, or lift an eyebrow, and you were back in a starship sickbay or in your own apartment in San Francisco, face to face with the mysterious dynamic of family relationship. Spock wouldn’t know, he had only ever seen Sam dead on the floor in his quarters in Deneva. Kirk banished the memory, and said,
“Well, it must have been very disappointing for you, Mr Spock.”
“But it must happen occasionally. I mean, to an inveterate calculator of the probabilities in any one situation. What are the odds, Commander, of you being beaten by the odds, so as to speak?”
“An experience very familiar to me, sir, after serving under you for a prolonged period of time in deep space,” and Kirk was aware of a rush of warmth, of being absurdly touched by the compliment. He smiled, said,
“Thank you, Spock,” and something reasserted itself again between the two men, the mooring rope he had held in his hands when they had talked, two days earlier, about the Gorn and Cestus Three. He held on to it, by way of a substitute of reaching out to Spock himself. He didn’t think the Vulcan was ready for human contact. And, remembering the conversation about the Gorn and holding on, he said, in the manner of one risking ground gained instead of resting on laurels,
“Interesting, though, don’t you think, to consider your father in the light of your views on my aggressive human tendencies?”
Spock raised an eyebrow. It was a rather wary eyebrow but on the other hand an eyebrow which looked genuinely uncertain as to what was coming.
“Well, so far as I remember, you informed us that your father would be well versed in the ancient Vulcan art of neck-breaking.”
“Tal-shaya,” said the possessor of a Vulcan neck, automatically.
“Spock, you can call it what you like, but my clear recollection is that it is still about breaking people’s necks. Moreover, according to you, it is the kind of breaking necks you do when you know absolutely what you’re doing, which suggests both study and practice. Not that I’m suggesting,” he added hastily, “that your father practiced, exactly. At least, not on humanoids. Perhaps on chickens?” he suggested helpfully, with a bright smile directed at the unyielding expression opposite. “Do you have chickens on Vulcan, Spock?”
“We do not,” his First Officer confirmed. “There are, however, numerous indigenous species not dissimilar to Earth wolves, bears and foxes.”
“All with necks?”
“That would necessarily be the case, Captain.”
“And you are all vegetarians. No contradictions there? I am sure you told me it is illogical to kill without reason. That Vulcans don’t approve of violence.”
“Your assumptions on how my father developed an expertise in tal-shaya are pure hypothesis, Captain.”
“Maybe,” Kirk said. He was enjoying himself, slightly to his surprise. He hadn’t thought that discussing Sarek’s homicidal tendencies with Spock would be enjoyable, but life was full of unexpected bonuses and there was no question that the atmosphere in the cabin had lightened and that Spock was playing the game. He thought about that. No question. Spock was playing the game. He said, curiously,
“I remember what you said, Spock, because it was such a shock at the time. You said to me, My father is quite capable of killing. Logically and efficiently.”
Spock said, gravely,
“I hope, Captain, you are not debating that my father’s approach would ever be anything but logical.”
Kirk, without intending to, was forcibly reminded of the one exception to this, which Spock, of all people, would never know. Forgive me, T’Lar. My logic is uncertain, where my son is concerned. He would tell Spock that, some day. He deserved to know, and Sarek deserved for him to know, even if neither would ever thank him.
Instead he said, aiming for a tone between light and serious,
“Clearly an indication that you hold him in the highest esteem, Commander, as you should. Despite your choices en route to Babel.”
“If you are referring, sir, to my postponement of surgery on assuming temporary command of the ship, I put it to you that any other arrangement would have been a dereliction of duty.”
“An entirely understandable dereliction of duty.”
“Perhaps. A dereliction of duty none the less. Would you not have done the same, in my position?”
And Kirk thought about this, properly, for the first time. His mother, or Sam, or Peter, in desperate straits, needing help only he could give. His ship under attack, his Enterprise, just as much flesh of his flesh. He gave Spock the best answer he could.
“I don’t know, Spock. Perhaps it was easier to criticise at the time. I think,” he said, exploring memory and understanding something for the first time as he did so, “sometimes you make decisions no different from the choices your human colleagues would make, but you articulate them in different ways, so it is harder for us to understand them.”
“By this, I assume you are referring to a lack of emotional histrionics?”
“Perhaps,” he smiled slightly. “Yes, I think so.” He had said I’m sorry about your father, and Spock had said It could adversely affect our mission. Worry is a human emotion. I accept what has happened. But the walls had come down, afterwards, in Sickbay, when Spock had suggested that Thelev, the architect of the scheme to undermine the conference, had been Orion. He had said I don’t understand why I didn’t think of it earlier and Kirk’s response You might have had something else on your mind had been met with That hardly seems likely, which was normal Spock tease language and therefore an open admission that he had been under terrible strain.
Both he and McCoy should have realised that earlier, instead of giving Spock a hard time of it. If the Vulcan had his own mechanisms for survival, that was his choice, just as it was everyone else’s. And, of course, Kirk had known all this at the time. He remembered the long walk to the bridge, sick and dizzy, McCoy at his side like glue, on a mission to convince Spock to relinquish command and undertake the blood transfusion, the determination to get Spock to sickbay by pretending a recovery from the knife attack which was far from genuine, and then, of course, his own choice – to stay on the conn when his ship was threatened. Perhaps he had made the same choice as Spock, after all. It had always been the Enterprise, for both of them.
Spock’s face, when he had appeared on the bridge. He remembered it still, with an inner smile of affection. He had rarely seen the expression so open. Overwhelming relief – firstly, that Kirk was safe, secondly, that consequently so was Sarek. Doubt had followed – that it could be this easy, because life was about hard choices for Spock and not being let off the hook; doubt that he should be allowed to let go, just for once, and do what he really wanted to do. Kirk had been a breath from collapse at the time. He had known the strength of Spock’s relief simply from the lack of serious opposition. Under any other circumstances, the Vulcan would have read the precise level of Kirk’s pain, the rate of his heartbeat and his general physical condition from a distance of at least four of the ship’s decks.
The memory of Spock’s anxiety about his father, cloaked as always in words such as duty, brought to mind Kirk’s own exchanges with Sarek, and the fact that his closest connection with Sarek would always be the time which by definition excluded Spock, their shared grief after Genesis. He remembered that when Sarek had first appeared in his apartment, he had looked up to see the hooded figure in the doorway and, for the briefest of moments, thought it was Spock. And then the oh-so-strange feeling of Sarek’s mind in his, a phenomenon he had only ever previously experienced with Sarek’s son, and the naked revelation to Sarek of what Spock’s death had meant to him. Sarek had taken him, in his thoughts, straight back to the reactor room, hardly a shock at the time since the scene was still playing itself out endlessly behind Kirk’s eyes, but actually being there, hearing Spock’s farewell in Spock’s voice from his father’s lips had robbed Kirk of his composure. And, of course, sent him down the road which led, ultimately, to Mount Seleya and redemption.
At the start of this conversation, he had suggested that things with Spock’s family might have changed since Mount Seleya and Spock hadn’t agreed, but I see no reason to anticipate such a development didn’t factor in the road which Kirk and Sarek had walked together. It had started with his confession in the apartment (your son meant more to me than you can know) and, oddly, Sarek’s own understanding of that, pre-dating Kirk’s words, because he had come to see Kirk in the confident expectation that it was Kirk Spock would have chosen as the keeper of his katra. Sarek, of all people, had been the one to count the cost (your ship, your son) and, perhaps because it had been a sort of trade (Kirk’s son for Sarek’s), at the end of the longest journey of Kirk’s life, it had been to Sarek that Kirk had managed to admit a truth which Harry Morrow had ignored and which Kirk had never brought himself to articulate to another being, If I hadn’t tried, the cost would have been my soul.
All of which meant that the future held a very different relationship for him and Sarek. Perhaps Spock had been right not to trust him all those years ago. But perhaps there were no short cuts, perhaps you had to start with humiliation and proceed to understanding only through loss and grief and hard-won compassion.
There was a noise from the other cabin. McCoy was getting up.
“Captain, are you aware that the probability is extremely high that Commander Coltron is no longer alive?”
Kirk shot him a look. He was due off duty and Spock knew it; the Vulcan could only be raising the subject of their mission if something about it had been troubling him throughout their shift.
“Clearly. Your point, Mr Spock?”
“I am aware that Starfleet are anxious to conceal traces of illegal espionage activity. However, the same odds that exist against Commander Coltron still being alive could also be quoted against the possibility of locating and retrieving his remains. Moreover, from the point of view of Starfleet, this mission represents a very significant deployment of equipment and personnel simply for that purpose, even given the political context.”
“You think there are reasons for concern about what we are walking into.”
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“It would be logical to assume that the situation may be complex.”
Kirk smiled. He was back where he belonged.
Tomorrow, he would try Spock on chess.
“Check,” said Kirk.
He watched the Vulcan studying the board. He had found it easier to persuade Spock to play than Spock had found it to make much progress against him. At any other time, beating Spock three times consecutively with little resistance would have been a minor cause for celebration. He would have offered his condolences to Spock for failing to identify the most logical moves, Spock would have commented on the unpredictable strategies adopted by humans, and Kirk would have said, “Commander, I understand perfectly that you have to rationalise defeat at the hands of a human and I would like you to know that I’m prepared to offer a wide margin of tolerance in relation to the excuses you proffer, provided they make you feel better”. To which Spock would have said “I am sure, Captain, that you are aware of the provisions of Starfleet Regulation 139 paragraph 5 on maintaining high standards of cultural sensitivity towards alien crew members,” and Kirk would have said, “I am absolutely positive that you made that up. Isn’t there a rule which prescribes penalties for fabricating random regulations?” Spock would have offered to provide training on the Starfleet Handbook for all senior personnel, and Kirk would have said “No, thank you” and offered him a drink with the next game, and Spock would have said “No, thank you”, and Kirk would have poured him one anyway and set the pieces up.
And now – this technically flawless delivery with no sign of the personal connection which had been the Vulcan’s chief weapon against Kirk. Ten years ago, Spock would have spotted any one of a number of clues which would have told him precisely what moves Kirk was planning, often before his captain had thought of them, like signposts in the dark, like tiny, distant cloud formations to expert meteorologists. Before Mount Seleya, Spock had, on average, been able to predict to within six Earth minutes when Kirk would have his first coffee of the day and when he would start counter-signing annual performance reviews (usually, in Spock’s experience, shortly after the fifth time Spock had reminded him and within an average of seven point three hours of the deadline set by Starfleet Regulations).
Spock broke into Kirk’s thoughts, catching him unaware. He was still studying the board, head at an angle, his gaze on Kirk’s challenging knight. He said,
“Captain, may I ask you an unrelated question, connected to your review of past missions?”
“Yes, of course,” Kirk said, pleasurably surprised that Spock was being forthcoming, curious as to what would follow.
“It relates to events which have, for the sake of convenience but not of accuracy, been logged under Stardate 3134.0.”
Which should have been enough to warn Kirk what was coming. Instead, he smiled at his own knight, tilted his head and said,
“I am speaking,” Spock said, “of events following our encounter with the phenomenon which, somewhat poetically, referred to itself as the Guardian of Forever.”
Kirk’s attention snapped back to Spock’s face. He had said Yes of course, had been pleased by the question, had (after all, of his own volition and with a view to helping his friend to restoration and final healing) invited Spock on a forty eight day journey down memory lane. He had not contemplated his own darker memories, his failures, those he had lost, and was far from sure he wanted to discuss Edith Keeler with the person who had likened his own reaction to Gary Mitchell’s terrible fate to McCoy’s interest in carrying out studies of bacteria.
But it was too late to be squeamish. He said, rather briefly, “What did you have in mind?” and Spock said,
“I know that you had formed an emotional attachment to Ms Keeler, albeit within a relatively short amount of time. It was also the case, however, that this attachment would never have survived, given your different destinies. I informed you as soon as was possible of the implications of Ms Keeler’s alternate futures. You were aware that her survival would lead to the end of everything significant not only in terms of your personal life (your family, your friends, your ship) but also in terms of human civilisation, Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. Yet you hesitated. It was not a logical reaction and remains inconsistent with the competencies and behaviours necessary for command. It is also inconsistent with the values I believe to you be yours. Are you able to elucidate?”
Kirk heard the words but scarcely understood them. The road home had never seemed so long. He looked at the Vulcan face, searched it for signs of the compassion which had guided him through that terrible time. For the person who, in the face of McCoy’s unbearable accusation - Do you know what you just did? - had interposed the protection of He knows, doctor, and who had managed, in the days following their return to the Enterprise, to find hours out of a schedule without spare minutes to play chess, to offer silent sympathy, or simply to be there, at times when Kirk knew perfectly well he should be in at least three other places. Sometimes, especially when he remembered the compassionate but relentless strength with which Vulcan logic had steered him towards that moment of decision in the street outside the mission, Kirk had wanted to throw something at Spock, to yell at him, tell him to get out and leave Kirk to his own blackness. But when the worst of it had passed, in fact by the time they had got the call to go to Deneva, when another, very different tragedy had beckoned, he had known himself ready to face it in a way that would not have been the case without that quiet and unconditional support. They had been playing chess then, as well, just before the orders came from HQ. Spock had beaten him, three games out of four that week, and Kirk had said, “You have no mercy, Commander,” and Spock had said, “Would you want it any other way, Captain?” and Kirk had said, through a sudden rush of understanding, “No, Spock, never,” and the Vulcan had, uncharacteristically, reached out so briefly Kirk had hardly felt the touch on his arm, and that was when he knew that neither of them had been talking about chess and that he had managed both to thank Spock and to forgive him for being right about Edith. And then Uhura had called to relay the message from HQ and they had gone to Deneva and never talked about it again.
All of which meant that he should have been better placed to deal with Spock’s question now, but anger swept him as he faced Spock in the cabin of the Polaris. It felt like anger with Spock, but even then he knew it was at least partly anger with the person in front of him for not being Spock, for not being the person who had been there all those years ago.
“Forgive me, Mr Spock. I’m only human. I loved her and I had to stand by and let her die and oddly enough, the decision was difficult. So I hesitated. I realise this is difficult for you to understand. I hope it doesn’t impact too negatively on your professional regard for my competencies, as you put it, to the point that you have doubts about serving under a flawed human being.”
When the Vulcan spoke again, his tone was subtly changed. If Kirk hadn’t known Spock’s voice rather better than he knew the notes of a scale in C major or the tune of the Star Spangled Banner, he might have missed it, but after the impassivity of the past few days, Kirk’s ears pricked almost like a cat’s.
“Sir, you misunderstand me. I have no wish to cause either offence or distress. I merely seek to better my own understanding. You have identified a potential weakness in the fal-tor-pan in terms of the level to which the process may not compensate for a lack of empirical memory, and I understood our recent dialogue to be an attempt to address this issue. As your perspective, while subjective, is the constant in this respect, your evaluation of my ability to understand certain dimensions of human response merits further consideration and I therefore identified the encounter with Ms Keeler as a paramount example of the contrast between an emotional and a logical approach to what was essentially a critical decision matrix. I am aware that my understanding of these events is deficient in your eyes and I wish to improve it.”
Kirk thought, for once, that a refusal to speak Standard had its uses. He knew Spock could not have brought himself to deliver this message starkly, but he also knew he himself would have found it hard to hear in terms less obfuscated than those Spock had just used. It was a little like someone breaking the news of a bereavement in French. You heard it second hand, through a barrier, not entirely certain of the content, and by the time you’d conjugated the odd irregular verb, the meaning had sunk in with slightly less pain than might have been occasioned by a more direct communication. Is it possible that Mount Seleya wasn’t entirely a success? You’re the one who knew me before and afterwards. You think I’ve changed; I’m trying to understand how. If I can understand about Edith, I can understand anything.
He took a breath and let it out, very slowly. He owed Spock this – he had offered it and the fact that the acceptance hadn’t looked quite as he expected changed nothing.
“Spock – of course, you’re right. There was no other decision I could have reached. It wasn’t just logic, it was emotion. It was the right thing to do, and of course I wanted to do it – to save humanity, to save all of our futures, but also to save those I loved. My family. My friends. My ship. Yes. But falling in love – I don’t believe you don’t know what it’s like, Spock. Don’t you? I remember Zarabeth. Leila Kalomi. It puts you in a different place. It’s like a drug. You see things differently, like you’ve had ophthalmic surgery. You need to be with that person. Letting them die, leaving them to obliteration – it’s more than hard. It goes against nature. I don’t believe – I really don’t believe, on one level, that you don’t know this.”
Spock fell subject, then, to a curious sensation. His understanding of empirical memory was that it was an organic thing, that it could surface much as a child or an animal may turn at the sound of its name. He had told Kirk that he had no empirical memory and he believed this to be the case, troubled only by his waking dreams of painful colour, which he knew in some way to be a thing of times passed, something which had survived Mount Seleya. Beyond that, he found his memories to be neatly filed, accessible logically by identifying through rational process the sequence he sought. He would have known exactly how to respond to a question such as Tell me about the first time you met McCoy, by simply calculating the time this had taken place and locating the memory of the occasion. (McCoy had said, You must be Spock, only person on board who could possibly be you, and he had said, In fact, there are four hundred and twenty eight other candidates, Doctor, but anatomically, existentially and factually you are, indeed, correct, and McCoy had stared at him in a sort of blank horror and said, Remind me, Jim, how long you said this mission was going to be?)
But this was different. Kirk had said Falling in love – I don’t believe you don’t know what it’s like, and he had felt the tug of memory. It had no name, though, no date - he didn’t think he had heard those exact words before, but he knew that they awoke in him a time past, a time when he had found an answer, perhaps the same as the one he sought now for what had happened to Edith Keeler. And then it was there, he captured it. Rayna. The Omega system. It had been McCoy, not Kirk. I feel sorrier for you than I do for him, because you’ll never know the things that love can drive a man to. How had those words come to him now, what was the connection and what had been his answer? He put it away from him to consider later, along with the conundrum of what had survived Mount Seleya.
“Sir, you will recall that at the time of the two encounters you mention, I was in an altered state. You were not, and it is still the case that you let pass at least one occasion when Ms Keeler might have died without your intervention. You did not know at that point there would be another.”
“It wasn’t her time,” he said, painfully. “She was supposed to die in a road accident. She did.”
“That is not entirely accurate, Captain. She was supposed to die in a road accident, but that was averted due to the fact that your acquaintance with her had already changed history. She manifestly would not originally have died in the particular road accident which in fact claimed her life with us as witnesses, since she would not originally have been invited by you to watch a cinematographic recording, nor crossed the road when alerted by your reunion with Dr McCoy.”
“I supposed you’re right,” he said, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” It didn’t seem very important. It had never seemed important and it was a long time ago, now – even in his time, centuries, of course, in hers. He looked at the Vulcan and had a sense of missing something. “What are you trying to say – that I could have missed the only chance?”
“Yes. You were facing a decision which involved the annihilation of mankind, you were given a chance to save the universe, you had no knowledge that there would be another and you did not take it. I know you believe that my failure to demonstrate undue emotion is a weakness, but it is not easy for me to understand why your hesitation was something to be emulated. I repeat that I do not seek to give offence, sir, but to understand.”
He smiled, slightly. “I know that, Spock.” And then, “You are saying that people aren’t threatened with fatal accidents every day. That the likelihood would have been that it wouldn’t have happened again. And we would have had to choose between the rest of the universe – and actually killing her.”
“Yes, Captain, that is exactly what I meant.”
Kirk took one point two nanoseconds to thank whichever divine power had not presented him with that particular choice, and said, wryly,
“If you are asking me to appreciate what you and your logic have brought to my decision making process over the years, Spock, it’s not necessary. I always have.”
“That was not my intention. I still find your hesitation hard to understand, given your relatively recent acquaintance with Ms Keeler, but I accept both your comments and the fact that you may not be able to convey the basis of the rationale for your actions.”
Kirk looked at him askance. Was Spock really equating the history of love with its strength? Was his First Officer truly finding it difficult to understand that it would be hard to abandon a woman you loved to a mangled death under a passing truck simply because you’d only known her a few weeks? What, after all, if it had been someone else?
“Would you have found it that easy, then, in my place?”
Spock said, immediately,
“It would have been both necessary and the right thing to do.”
“Of course. And if it had been your father, or your mother?”
“They would have understood.”
“Knowing your father,” Kirk said, with feeling, “I have no doubt as to his reaction. I’m talking, however, about yours. Spock,” he added, more with curiosity than provocation, “what if it had been me?”
The two regarded each other, and Kirk thought, then, inevitably, What if it had been Spock?
What if it had? He had known Spock for years before they had ended up stealing clothes from a street in twentieth century New York. He hadn’t recently met Spock and fallen swiftly into a whirlwind on discovering an extraordinary kinship and visionary perspective in a pair of beautiful grey eyes into which he should never, by the laws of space and time, have looked. Spock had simply been part of him – he had been chess opponent, conscience, friend, support, companion, challenge and comfort for twenty four hours a day throughout the five year mission, such that Kirk’s visceral identification with his ship was hardly divisible from his friendship with the other half of his command team.
What if it had been Spock? And the immediate thought came, I would have found a way. But then, he had thought that about Edith, and he had failed and she had been dead now for three hundred years and Spock had said You may not be able to convey the basis of the rationale for your actions and was still waiting for an answer.
He wondered if Spock, too, was thinking I would have found a way. Kirk had, after all, changed the programming on the Kobayashi Maru, he had faced Khan in the Mutara Nebula and said a terrible goodbye in the reactor room of the Enterprise and he had still gone back to Genesis and to Mount Seleya and he had found a way and here they were, on the Polaris, talking about Edith Keeler. Did that mean that Spock was right about the history of love?
He didn’t want to hear what Spock was going to say in answer to his question, so instead he said, by way both of diversion and of his own answer,
“What does your didactic memory tell you that Edith said about you, Mr Spock?”
Spock raised an eyebrow which looked rather relieved that it had not been called upon to answer Kirk’s last question.
“There were a number of instances at which Ms Keeler commented on various of my attributes, Captain. Are you referring to the occasion on which she complimented my handling of the toolbox as worthy of a professional thief?”
Kirk laughed, caught by surprise. It was partly the relief of tension, he knew, the sudden descent into nonsense from an unbearable discussion on the relative ease of letting Spock or Edith die a horrible death, and all the past choices he had made which sometimes haunted him between waking and sleeping. It was also the rush of pleasure at the fact that Spock was reaching out, was consciously lightening the atmosphere, perhaps for the first time since Mount Seleya. He said, still smiling,
“No, though I am delighted to hear that that particular memory is preserved intact. Your criminal tendencies have always been among those I particularly valued.” He hesitated, and decided to change tack. Perhaps Spock would find it difficult, perhaps he didn’t need to hear out loud Edith’s long ago, long-remembered comment, perhaps (and judging from the look in his face) he already knew. Spock had always wore a particular expression when he anticipated emotional demonstrations, not unlike a horse shying. McCoy had used to call it running at the first sign of trouble. He remembered a previous excursion to Romulus which had ended in tragedy and also in near tragedy, Stiles trying to thank Spock for saving his life, and Spock’s brusque rejoinder, lightning-swift to avoid gratitude and embarrassment. I saved a trained navigator so he could return to duty. I am capable of no other feelings in such matters.
The truth was that Spock had asked Where would you estimate we belong, Miss Keeler? and Edith had replied, You? At his side, as if you’ve always been there and always will. At least she’d been right about that. Thank God.
He said, instead, knowing Spock would know he was changing the subject,
“It was the first time I had heard you talk about that unfortunate accident you had as a child.”
“A small and necessary exaggeration, Captain, in order to preserve safety and avoid detection.”
“In other words, you lied.”
“I contributed to a necessary degree of subterfuge in order to ensure the success of our mission.”
“I think that’s what I just said.”
“Captain, I have another question.”
Kirk prepared himself, determined not to be caught unaware this time, lulled into a sense of false security by the soothing return to the old game.
“Was it not possible for a starship captain of your experience, even under the pressure of the moment, to have suggested a more likely scenario than a mechanical rice picker?”
He felt the smile breaking out then, like sunshine.
“Just think of it, Spock, as a moment of inspiration. I have always been rather proud of it.”
Kirk looked sharply at the chessboard and then up at Spock’s face. Was that – smugness? Just how far had Spock travelled on his journey from Mount Seleya? That he was still, intrinsically, himself, was now clear to Kirk, that they could step back into the same language of tease and counter-tease, that Kirk could, without question, rely on the same combination of intellect, courage, compassion and dry humour. What Kirk had been seeking, what he had thought lost, was Spock’s ancient understanding, the bone-deep knowledge of Kirk born of a thousand emotional dilemmas which the Vulcan now professed to find oblique. Kirk needed to know the knowledge was there and he found that he needed, almost as much, for Spock to be prepared to admit to it.
But now – this. Exactly how much of the conversation had been deliberately engineered in order for Spock to checkmate him? He didn’t know. He had an answer at least to one question, though, and he reached gracefully to tip over his king in defeat, just as McCoy came into the cabin.
“So, how’s it going, with you and Spock?” McCoy asked, inevitably. So far, their shift had included filing three routine encrypted reports, implementing a course diversion to avoid a Romulan vessel and a running commentary on the food replicators in tones of Southern indignation. The doctor sat, now, nursing a coffee before the end of the shift, having made it more than clear that nothing in the coffee was likely to provide any significant obstacle to his approaching engagement with oblivion. “’Course, you know, Jim,” he had said, “coffee is actually supposed to have caffeine in it. Too much to ask of Starfleet to figure out the programming and I’ll bet you anything you like they’ve purposely decided to include caffeine in the list of prohibited substances, anyway. Should have applied the same effort to replicating a decent set of sleeping quarters. How in the blazes am I supposed to go to sleep on that rubberised shelf they call a cabin, anyway? Just as well, not as though I can trust Spock to remember how to count in double figures any more, probably better to stay awake anyway.”
Kirk had listened to all this with rather less than a twentieth of his brain, rather enjoying the familiar background noise. Few people would have deemed it as relaxing as a Beethoven string quartet, but then it arose in few people an incorrigible association with the happiest and most fulfilling period of their lives, which they had once believed lost forever. And then the tone had shifted, just a fraction, as McCoy’s drawl became a little less Georgian summer evening and a little more Enterprise CMO. So, how’s it going, with you and Spock?
He said, ducking the question with an ease born of a long habit of ignoring forty five percent of McCoy’s commentary on the ship’s First Officer,
“Bones, what’s wrong with the sleep inducer?”
“You’re kidding, right? Sleep inducer, my God – the very name’s enough that you’d rather take cordrazine. Look, Jim, if I want to go to sleep in a hammock with a fresh breeze and someone playing the fiddle a long way away, I’ll go home and sling myself up in the back yard, and pay the neighbour’s boy to strike up someplace not too near. I won’t adjust the ambience controls in a metal box the wrong side of the Neutral Zone in an attempt to fool myself I’m not in Romulan space on a shuttle too small to be a decent refrigerator, and to pretend I’m not in all likelihood about to die an invisible death on a fool’s errand.”
Kirk smiled at McCoy through a rush of familiar memories.
“Why are you here, then, and not in your back yard, old friend?”
“And leave you and Spock to look after each other? You don’t know how tempted I was, Jim, but you’ll never sort him out without me. Which brings me back to where I started. You going to answer my question? Why were you talking to him about Flint and Rayna?”
Kirk looked up, mystified.
“I wasn’t. I never mentioned either of them. Don’t know what you’re talking about, Bones. What was it I’m supposed to have said?”
“Nothing – actually, he never said you brought it up. Just that he mentioned them to me, and I made an assumption. Started me thinking about it again. Hadn’t remembered them in years. Don’t mean to trample over sensitive places, Jim, but they were an odd pair.”
“Flint and Rayna? The android girl? I guess so. No sensitivities for me, Bones. Never think about them myself, either. Not the most memorable of our escapades. But of course,” his voice changed tone, “you’d remember it differently. It was Rigelian fever, wasn’t it? – and I know we lost some good men before we found the ryetalyn on that planet – Holberg something. Flint’s planet. Neither of us was ever much good at it, were we? At losing people. I know why you remember, and I shouldn’t have forgotten. You did all you could for them, Bones.” He laid a brief hand on McCoy’s arm, and the doctor looked down at the hand in recognition, remembering all over again the Jim Kirk of the five year mission whom men would follow too far from home and too near to alien terror. He wondered if Kirk ever knew that sometimes it came down to a hand on a sleeve, a smile, a look of understanding – whilst knowing that it both did and didn’t. Kirk was born to command and a starship captain simply knew how to lead with a natural economy of effort which came from sheer instinct.
He said now, curiously, to the owner of the hand of command,
“Actually, I meant Rayna, Jim. You took quite a knock over her, and I knew she’d meant something special to you because you never spoke of her, ever again. It was like it never happened. Not like you.”
“Rayna?” Kirk stared. “She was an android, Bones, for God’s sake. I do remember, now – Flint made a very good fist of it and she was a pretty thing and highly impressive but – you’re way off beam. She never meant anything to me.”
McCoy looked at him, consideringly. “Not what it looked like at the time, Jim. I didn’t spend so much time as Spock did with you and her – I was off trying to process ryetalyn with that damn robot, but the two of you were pretty friendly, seemed to me.”
Kirk laughed, unbelievingly.
“Think you should use the sleep inducer a bit more, Bones. You’re off your game.”
The blue Georgian gaze was unwavering. “Maybe. Why don’t you ask Spock?”
Which was why he was playing chess again with Spock and waiting for an opportunity to ask him why he had been talking to McCoy about Rayna Kapec, the last years of an ancient wanderer and a fever which had nearly claimed the lives of his crew in a distant star system a long time ago.
“Gravitational field density,” he said, suddenly. Spock looked up with a keen glance which said that he knew exactly what Kirk had said and why, and that their thoughts had been in the same place. Kirk nodded at him,
“That was what she wanted to talk to you about, wasn’t it? Remember? Rayna Kopec. You were her big chance to discuss gravitational field density.”
“That is correct. It was a fascinating conversation. She was exceptionally well advanced in the study of sub-dimensional physics.”
Kirk’s smile broadened.
“I am sorry, Mr Spock. I can’t help feeling that we so often fail you, in very many respects.” And then, before the Vulcan could comment, “So? Why did you bring them up, Flint and Rayna, to McCoy? You seem to have given him some slightly strange ideas.”
“Never mind,” Kirk said, hastily. “Was there anything you wanted to discuss about Flint?”
“I was seeking,” Spock said slowly, “to verify a memory.”
“Oh? Why that one, particularly? Why talk to McCoy about it? You certainly piqued his curiosity.”
There was a pause, in which Kirk’s eyes were pulled away from a bishop in peril to study his friend. It was very unlike the Vulcan to hesitate. What could be troubling him about that long ago errand of mercy?
“Spock?” And then, to lighten the atmosphere and try another approach, he said,
“Wonder if McCoy is struggling with this mission more than I thought. He’s not using the sleep inducer, apparently.”
“Me? No.” Kirk was a starship captain and when you were a starship captain and you were lying horizontal and the part of you which was half-flesh-half-warp-core told you that the engines were functional, that there was no immediate crisis and that you were off duty, then you went to sleep, simple as that. Because none of those things might be true in five minutes’ time and you learned to switch off and regenerate whenever you could, because the ship depended on the crew and the crew depended on the captain and the captain, at the end of the day, depended on certain biological realities, inconvenient though they were. “No. But then I’ve not been fabricating fantasies about android romances.”
He knew that somehow McCoy’s strange comment in the last shift was linked to Spock’s odd behaviour when Spock said without so much as a raised eyebrow,
“He’s convinced himself I was in love with Rayna Kopec,” Kirk said irritably, discovering that the words had found a vulnerable spot somewhere. “There are times, if you want to know, Spock, when this god-damn reputation for womanising really gets to me. I had fewer relationships, and God knows far fewer meaningful relationships, during the whole of the five year mission, than the average man in the street in Iowa, and that’s with more women throwing themselves in my path than anyone will ever know. Not that I take that sort of stuff seriously,” he added, hastily. “They go with the uniform and the position. Ask any other captain. Truth be told, it’s a lonely place to be. I know you know that, you of all people.”
He looked at the person who had ensured that it was not a lonely place to be, who had been by several light years the most meaningful relationship of the five year mission, and wished that there was a way of saying so, that this Spock could understand what he was failing to say. The Vulcan looked sombre, even by his usual standards, and Kirk’s courage failed him. Spock said, in the tone of one continuing not to answer the question,
“Is the idea of an emotional attachment to a non-human offensive to you, Captain?”
His head snapped up.
“That’s damn unfair and I’m not even going to answer it. And there’s a hell of a difference between non-human and non-sentient.”
“That is self-evident,” Spock said. “However, Flint’s android was sentient and you did, in fact, form an emotional attachment to her.”
There was a brief pause, and then Kirk said,
“Utter nonsense. Maybe you need the sleep inducer, too, Spock. It just didn’t happen.”
Spock turned to him, then, his eyes more opaque than usual, his words so unexpected Kirk didn’t at first understand what he was saying.
“Captain, the reason you are not aware that it happened is that it was never entered in the ship’s log and your memory of the salient events was subsequently altered.”
A beat, and then – because Spock was so obviously telling the truth, the only possible question,
“By me, sir.”
“Are you serious?”
“That is invariably the case.” It would have to be now, Kirk thought irrelevantly, that Spock was making his first joke since Mount Seleya. Or was he? Did Vulcans suffer from nervous tension? What on earth was Spock trying to tell him?
“Are you telling me,” he said, in a dangerous voice, starship captain to junior ensign, the atmosphere in the cabin a very long way from the encouraging intimacy of the last few days, “are you by any chance telling me that you deliberately engaged a Vulcan mind technique in order to alter my recollection of an official ship’s mission, with permanent effect?”
“And do I take it,” he continued, torn between anger and astonishment, “that I gave my consent to this?” Although, he thought, how would he ever know? Spock could tell him he’d been AWOL for the relevant timeframe assassinating the Romulan Head of Command, and that he had himself asked Spock to remove the memory in order to protect everyone on the Enterprise from detection by the Romulans, and he would never know the truth. He could instead have discovered Spock in flagrante with a sehlat and Spock could have removed the memory to protect himself.
But it appeared that nothing so exciting had taken place - assuming Spock was telling the truth – because the Vulcan said, simply,
“No consent was given.”
Of course, Spock would never have made up a story about assassinating the Romulan Head of Command to protect himself anyway, because Vulcans don’t lie. Right?
A thousand things fought to be the first to Kirk’s lips, and what won sounded like a cork flying from a bottle,
“You had no right.”
Spock bowed his head while Kirk struggled with an overwhelming sense of betrayal. He had fought to believe that Spock was himself, that the friend he had loved was not permanently gone with his beloved ship in the death fires of Genesis but that the person next to him who had, in any real sense been absent from every day of the five year mission, was still his old familiar companion. He had deliberately taken him down memory lane in the hope that he would somehow meet himself coming back – for his own sake, of course, but also because Kirk wanted that connection back, wanted it so much that on a bad day, when he thought it wasn’t going to happen, loneliness reached out for him at night with a cold and unaccustomed touch which made him realise he’d never once really experienced it in all the years on his ship with this person by his side. And it had worked – talking to Spock about Gary, about Edith, even about Garth had actually helped him to see things he’d not seen at the time and to deepen his understanding – Spock’s, too – of what they had lived through together.
But this? It turned out that the trust they had built had been a fragile thing. Would this altered Spock in fact do the opposite – not only fail to exist within the personal connection which had meant so much to Kirk, but in fact unravel his memories to show that they had never been what he had thought – had been somehow less than what he had remembered?
How on earth, in fact, would he know what he remembered, now?
And that was when he realised the irony of the situation.
Neither he nor Spock, in a true sense, in their current incarnations, had been there on that planet, whilst McCoy processed ryetalyn in a desperate bid to save the crew from Rigelian fever.
He stared at the Vulcan, and asked the only question he could.
“Why? Tell me why, please.”
“As I mentioned, sir, you had formed a deep attachment to Rayna Kopec. You suffered a not insignificant emotional trauma as a result of her death, which was caused by an inability to assimilate and adjust to the competition for her affections between you and Flint. It was Dr McCoy’s desire and your own that you could forget what had transpired. Unlike Dr McCoy, I had the means to achieve this. He was not complicit in my actions and, in fact, remains ignorant of them.”
Kirk thought through this explanation. It put Spock back where he had always been, not alien mind-stealer but loyal and protective friend, but it still didn’t make sense and it did absolutely nothing for the mounting fury inside him. McCoy, had he not, in fact, succumbed to slumber even without the assistance either of caffeine or sleep inducer, could have told him, had he been present, that the anger was only partly caused by Spock’s revelation and was also the result of days of stress and frustration and an overwhelming and still largely unvoiced grief only partly assuaged by the events on Mount Seleya. But McCoy, as a result of the earlier conversation with Kirk, was dreaming of the hammock in the back yard of his home in Georgia, with a slight smile on his lips in the darkened cabin twelve metres away.
And so Kirk proceeded to blaze a path to release.
“Look, Commander. I realise that the health and well-being of your captain is legitimately your business. And I also realise you acted from good intentions. But even assuming all this is true – and please don’t tell me Vulcans don’t lie, this is not a good time for that particular fantasy – it was an outrageous thing to do. It’s my mind, damn it! Mine, not yours. What the hell did you think you were doing? What am I, if not my memories? They are what makes me who I am, and so is your so-called emotional trauma. How can I take on board what happens to me and grow and move on if you take the experience away before it’s finished? How can I be who I am if I can’t remember?”
He paused for breath, all hazel fury, and knew from the look on Spock’s face exactly what he had said. He might as well have told Spock in words of one syllable that he doubted the essence of Spock’s own identity. They were back to that moment of realisation on day one of the Polaris mission, except without the careful reaching out to one another, the willingness to pretend and to heal which had been what carried them through till now, to this torrent of anger and grief, of havoc and destruction. He knew he should stop, but the relief of letting go was too strong.
“And you could have given me the credit, frankly. I know you were always very mindful of your duty to the ship, but don’t you think this was carrying it a bit far? I wasn’t a teenager, Mr Spock, I could have picked myself up and carried on and kept the ship going and delivered the missions and even kept filing the damn reports. That’s what was bothering you, right? The reports? How dare you? What made you do it – go on, tell me now. I’ve got a right to know; frankly, a right to know if I can trust any other memory of the last couple of decades you may have changed without telling me. How am I supposed to know, Spock? Why did you do it? Tell me why.”
Vulcan eyes looked back steadily at human accusation, and Spock remembered the bright colours of his waking dreams, now almost at his peripheral vision, spiky, with sharp edges, sharp enough to slice and cut. Was this how humans lived? Was this what he had courted, allowing Kirk to draw him back into the past – into their past? And what did it mean, this smarting sensation, as though Kirk’s words had fists which could aim a blow, and land hard?
His memories of Rayna and Flint had been consciously accessed only after the conversation about Edith Keeler the day before, when Kirk had questioned how much he, Spock, knew about falling in love. He’d heard McCoy’s words then - I feel sorrier for you than I do for him, because you’ll never know the things that love can drive a man to. And he’d gone away and remembered the whole episode, Rayna’s golden perfection which had been programmed in such a way that Kirk had never stood a chance. Flint’s manipulation. His own helplessness to do anything, even to forestall the revelation awaiting Kirk in Flint’s laboratory. He had said to Kirk Let me go alone, Captain, but it had been the wrong thing to say and a strategy unlikely to be successful. Letting other people go alone had never been Kirk’s forte.
He had become accustomed, over a period of time, to seeing Kirk with women. They had come in various shapes and sizes and they had never lasted. His own reactions had ranged from a concealed and passing concern for the women to a more lasting worry about Kirk’s own vulnerability and the restless searching for the next emotional high. He had come to realise, of course, that there was an inevitability about the dynamic, that Kirk was never going to form a permanent relationship – would probably never do so even outside the confines of the mission. There were other starship captains who did, but Kirk was not of that breed. The women had ranged from the In-Another-Universe (Edith Keeler) to In-The-Line-Of-Duty Manipulation (Deela of Scalos) to the Serious Mistake (Janice Lester). They had been safety valve, physical release and occasionally a way out.
Rayna had been different and this had been a part of the reason for Spock’s action. He watched the anger in Kirk’s face and knew that the accusation was deserved, that it was years over-due. It had been an unforgiveable trespass. He had given in to the impulse set off by McCoy’s words in part because Rayna had not been a casual affair, a matter of hormones or frustration or even the complicity of smiles on a dull day at the store. Rayna had been a trap, if not set for Kirk then still a trap, a matter of deliberate programming and multi-processor chips which had nothing to do with Edith Keeler or Miramanee, with love or escapism. In that sense, Kirk had been right – not that love outside homo sapiens was unthinkable, but that this had not been natural and because of that, Spock had been uncertain what recovery would look like. Or when it would come.
Of course, the other reason for what he had done – the main reason – had been McCoy’s words. Even now, looking back decades from the perspective of Mount Seleya at what could almost – but not quite – have been another man’s actions, he heard the casual, condescending, dismissive echo of You’ll never know. And he remembered his own stubborn reaction, a moment of rebellion from his human half which had refused to be classified as ignorant, along with Flint’s earlier prototypes of Rayna - all now, along with the android herself, reduced to cold microchips with no difference any longer between the circuits which had loved and laughed and those which had just never managed it. He had looked at Kirk’s face, haunted even in sleep, and thought simply, I do know, and he had proved it both to himself and to a sleeping Kirk whom he would never tell; had put his hands on Kirk and felt passing through his fingertips the loss, the humiliation, the grief; had stood back a moment to watch his captain sleep, the lines on his face restored and then, feeling as though he were trespassing, he had dialled down the lights and left the cabin. Still later, in meditation next to the blackness of the porthole in his quarters, he had consciously set free the distress he had carried away from Kirk, had looked out into the stars and given Rayna a final, silent salute from the man she had loved.
Kirk was still waiting for an answer. And Spock offered him the only one he had, perhaps because he had no other way to deal with Kirk’s anger, perhaps because Flint and Rayna and even his hands on Kirk’s face still felt like things which had happened to someone else.
“Dr McCoy and you yourself both expressed a wish that you would forget.”
Kirk batted it away, like an angry bull bothered by a fly.
“Hardly a reason to steal part of my mind, Mr Spock, although I naturally appreciate the sympathy from both my senior officers. I need a science office and a medical officer, not a personal shrink or a baby-sitter.”
The truth, then.
“At the same time, the doctor suggested that I was unable to understand the experience from your perspective, Captain. He felt that your condition was preferable to the absence of any empirical knowledge of emotion.”
He could not say more. He willed Kirk to understand. And with a sense of relief washing through him like a thing palpably physical, he saw that, somehow, Kirk did.
The two looked at each other. Kirk was still breathing hard, his anger ebbing from the knockout blow it had just received but adrenaline still flooding his body. Vulcans do not experience adrenalin rushes, nor do they experience fear, but for all that Spock kept absolutely still, like a man exploring debris after an earthquake who knows he may have taken a step too far and sees neither a way forward nor a way back. He waited for the sound of falling buildings, for the ground to give way.
And Kirk, from a different vantage point, in fact felt not very different. He was sufficiently an expert on any Spock to understand exactly what the Vulcan had just said. He wasn’t entirely sure that it justified stealing bits of Kirk’s brain, but that seemed, for the minute, rather less relevant. His whole being was centred on Spock’s words, on this admission, decades after the fact.
It occurred to him that Spock would never have made this admission before Mount Seleya and, after Mount Seleya, might have struggled with the act in the first place, with whatever had driven him to take away Kirk’s grief like a modern-day scapegoat. Was that the difference and was it because the Vulcan, like Kirk, saw the past as something which had essentially happened to someone else?
And then Kirk noticed Spock’s absolute stillness and knew that this was too simplistic an explanation. Give me time, Spock, he thought, then. Give us both time. Whether it was the release of anger or the extraordinary benison of Spock’s confession – still flooding through him like the warmth of the first rays of sun after a hard winter – he knew he had to stop seeing Spock as two different people. The person in front of him was the one who had once refused to be told that he didn’t know how to love. It was as simple as that.
He said, very gently, because he had to,
“Please don’t ever do that again, Spock,” and immediately wanted both the reassurance that the Vulcan wouldn’t use a mind-meld again without permission, and also for Spock not to see this as an invitation to renege.
“I have taken your queen, sir.” Startled, he glanced down at the board, and said,
“That wasn’t actually what I was talking about.”
“Evidently, Captain. You only have one queen. In fact, at the current time, I fear you have none at all.” There was a moment when their eyes met, and then Kirk laughed, let laughter take the tension instead of anger, forgetting to worry that he might wake McCoy. He heard a noise in the other cabin and stood to stretch, still smiling.
“Guess it’s my turn to leave you with the con, Mr Spock,” he said, and as he passed the Vulcan, he dropped his hand and gripped Spock’s shoulder hard. It was the only answer he could find for Spock’s confession, and he thought it was enough.
“Spock,” he said, dead pan, concealing the smile, “you know, all ‘Fleet captains are supposed to leave standing last orders, in case the worst happens.” He’d decided, after the conversation about Rayna Kopec, to go for something more light-hearted and had found, casting his mind back, that there was something he’d been meaning to ask the Vulcan for a very long time.
“Indeed,” Spock responded, warily. The conversation seemed innocuous, but then the Melkotians had once contrived to make their planet resemble Tombstone, Arizona even though it was nothing of the kind. The Talosians had once convinced Chris Pike that Vina was a beautiful young girl. Life in deep space and the study of Vulcan philosophy had taught Spock never to assume the obvious. He had found this a particularly useful skill in his dealings with Jim Kirk.
“It’s Regulation 245, paragraph (b), if you really want to know,” his captain continued, blandly.
Spock’s conviction grew that they were having at least two conversations. Of the seven hundred and ninety two occasions on which Starfleet Regulations had been cited between them, this was the first time Kirk had initiated the topic. He said now, cautiously,
“I am fully cognizant of all Starfleet Regulations, Captain. I believe you require no corroboration of my knowledge of the handbook.”
“Not at all, Spock,” Kirk waved a hand, airily, “of course you are. In fact, the only reason I referred to it is that I know you’re comfortable talking about regulations. I thought it would brighten up the conversation for you. Make you feel at home.”
Spock judged that this particular comment did not require a reply. He also judged, correctly, from his captain’s expression that this was both expected and slightly disappointing. After a beat, Kirk continued, blithely,
“Of course, every so often, the rumours of death turn out to be exaggerated, and we turn up again, like a bad penny.”
“In fact, you have on a number of occasions survived against significant odds and in the face of contrary expectation. However, in no way do you resemble a defective item of pre-space age Earth monetary currency.”
Kirk gave him a hard look. As the journey to Romulus continued and his confidence grew that there would come a time when his relationship with Spock would be restored in its entirety, he occasionally wondered whether, on that day, Spock would simply lift an eyebrow and admit, in his own vocabulary, to having been as fully cognizant all along of what Kirk was attempting as he was of the Starfleet handbook. Spock seemed to come in and out of focus like a distant star in a tele-viewer when applying a magnification factor. The good news was that the times were beginning to increase in frequency when Kirk could catch a glimpse of him, sharp and clear, exactly as he had been before Khan, before Genesis, before the reactor room. Before Mount Seleya.
He settled on this occasion for being teased, gave Spock the sideways glance he would have once traded across the bridge of the Enterprise, and went on, as if the Vulcan hadn’t spoken,
“At which point, we get an automated alert reminding us to change the standing orders.”
Spock stilled, began to understand what conversation they were having and said, suspecting where it would take him,
“It’s what Matt Decker used to refer to as the infantilisation of command rank. God forbid that Starfleet should appoint starship commanders with sufficient native wit to realise that last orders have limited currency – that any one set of orders only really works once. They put in the programming when the last but one CO of the Potemkin failed to refresh his last orders after they’d been accessed, and was subsequently permanently lost in some Romulan cross-fire, from memory – anyway, the ship was a long way out and had to come back without its captain and that’s when the powers that be thought it would be a good idea to ensure that last orders were kept up-dated.”
There was a small silence, and Kirk smiled gently at his First Officer.
“When I went missing in Tholian space, that time after the Defiant was lost, you told me quite categorically that you never accessed my last orders. I have reason to know that your statement was less than accurate. Care to comment, Commander?”
Spock was silent for a moment, and then said, carefully,
“I was merely supporting Dr McCoy, who had already claimed ignorance of your orders, sir.”
“Touching, but not nearly good enough,” Kirk said, cheerfully. “You listened to them, and then you collectively pretended that you hadn’t. Care to tell me why, Spock?”
He wondered what Spock would say, whether he would continue to bluff or surrender, cornered, but in fact what the Vulcan said, quietly, was
“You might find it less than edifying.”
Kirk dropped the flippancy like a dead tribble.
“Go on. Tell me what happened.”
Spock adjusted the controls on the console and Kirk watched him, in no hurry, giving the Vulcan space to reply but also just enjoying the familiar feel of the old unspoken partnership. He wondered what it felt like to Spock. He wondered what it felt like when you met someone from another species and discovered that your minds fit together like a child’s jigsaw, even if you were a Vulcan and would never admit to the fact (including because minds are not wooden images illogically and deliberately severed along multiple contours in order to present a challenge to the task of reassembly - and also because the average Vulcan could complete a jigsaw in approximately 5.2 nanoseconds and the metaphor was therefore inappropriate). He wondered what it felt like then to have reached a point of working with the other half of the jigsaw that you no longer needed to question the reason for a decision or even to wait for a command, that you could sit in a small shuttle and carry out routine tasks without waiting for any sort of allocation process, because it was self-evident without discussion who would do what, when and why. He wondered what it felt like to have lost all that - to have lost it for years and then to have lost it permanently by walking into a reactor room and putting your hands into the mains warp drive because it turned out that the day-to-day functioning of this ship and this crew, with or without you, were more important than your personal future. And then to have regained the other part of the jigsaw, to find yourself once more without the need for an allocation process, checking the readings on a console while someone you should never have met, from a world light years from yours, sat beside you and knew exactly what you were going to do next. How did that fit, exactly, into didactic or empirical memory?
He came back to the present conversation, as Spock began:
“Dr McCoy and I are very different beings and we reacted differently to the situation which arose in the wake of the loss of the Defiant.”
Kirk’s smile was huge and involuntary.
“You don’t need to tell me, you know, that you and McCoy are very different beings,” he said, from an old and very deep affection. “Sorry. Go on. Tell me about the different reactions.”
“Dr McCoy’s perspective on the situation was influenced primarily by the effects of the interspatial anomaly on the health of the crew.”
“What in the blazes do you think I should have been thinking about instead?”
Kirk turned. McCoy stood next to the bulkhead separating the main desk from the sleeping quarters. His hair was ruffled, he looked unrested and his scowl reminded Kirk forcibly of the worst of the senior crew clashes during the five year mission.
“Keep telling you to use the sleep inducer, Bones. And if not, physician, can’t you heal yourself? I happen to know the shuttle’s medical supplies include a stock of sedatives and sleeping meds – I checked the inventory before you came on board. If all else fails, I’m sure Spock could help you meditate, if that would help. You’re not on duty for another ninety minutes.”
The doctor grunted.
“I’m a doctor, not a junkie. Not filling myself up with chemicals just because I’m stuck in the middle of Romulan space without a decent mattress. And if you think I’m letting that green-blooded thought policeman anywhere near my brain after the mess he’s made of his own, you must be confusing me with someone without the basic instinct of self-preservation.”
“Your disproportionate aggression suggests that you view my comment as a criticism, doctor. Given your duties at the time as the ship’s Chief Medical Officer, it is not readily understandable why you should think so. I merely commented that your priority was the health of the crew.”
“I know they took your brain out and tried to put it back in the same order, Spock, but don’t be fooled. This is me, McCoy. I know when you’re trading insults, I’ve spent (God help me) far too much time in your company, learning it the hard way. What you’re trying to tell Jim is that I didn’t have the big picture.”
Kirk looked out the main viewer and let it wash over him, like low tide on a warm beach. The eddy and flow of the dialogue between his two senior officers was as much part of the fabric of life on the Enterprise as the soft background hum of the warp engines. It was a living, rhythmic thing, part of the natural cycle of who they all were and the pattern which two very different men had devised to accommodate their own diversity within the confines of the ship’s senior command crew. It had also come to be the only way open to them effectively to debate different perspectives in order to inform the captain’s own decision-making process, which had made it a thing beyond value to him personally. But it had a sting, for all that. The salt in the waves would find their mark where there was the slightest evidence of an open wound, and every so often a larger wave would wash up and one of his officers would be sitting there with a mouthful of abrasive salt water and either real anger or a more remote and cooler display of logic, depending on whether they hailed from Georgia or a patch of unyielding, rocky terrain in the heartland of Vulcan.
He said, now, mildly, on a hunch that there were unresolved issues in the waters around them,
“Not much of an insult, surely, Bones? The big picture is supposed to be the captain’s job. Spock was in command. He was relying on you for a view on the health of the crew. What he did with that information was his job.”
“Maybe.” McCoy leaned back against the bulkhead, the scowl lingering around his mouth but his eyes fixed in the middle distance, on another set of stars a long time ago. “Doesn’t mean I’m not capable of evaluating his decisions. That’s part of my job, too, Captain.”
“You had a problem with Spock’s handling of the situation?”
“Difficult to point it out with retrospect, and to you of all people. Look, Jim, it’s thanks to him that you’re with us now and I don’t mind admitting it. But he was damn lucky. You can’t justify command decisions with hindsight. What he did was risk the lives of the crew on an impossible hunch and on wishful thinking.”
Spock spoke, in matter of fact tones,
“In fact, doctor, my actions were influenced by calculations of interspatial frequencies and by nothing else. Further, if that were not the case, may I point out that the captain (with all due respect) frequently makes command decisions based on so-called hunches, with considerable success and with deserved acclaim?”
Kirk said quietly, sideways to his First, in the tone of a private parenthesis,
“No wishful thinking, then?”
“Vulcans do not –“
“Of course not. Just checking.”
But McCoy was continuing.
“But that’s the point, isn’t it, Spock? The captain does. You don’t. Hunch isn’t your style. It doesn’t have a mathematical value to three decimal places. Hell, you can’t even use the word without putting “so-called” in front of it. If you end up in command, you should try it Vulcan style and stick to doing the Logical Thing. You just can’t pull off wing-and-a-prayer, charisma and hunch, skin-of-your-pants stuff. You shouldn’t have tried.”
Kirk stirred. He’d spent the best part of his adult life avoiding the cross-fire between his two senior officers, but every now and then he felt compelled to intervene.
“Bit harsh, Bones?”
McCoy rounded on him, then, and that was the point at which Kirk realised that the doctor, too, had been waiting to say this a long time.
“You weren’t there, Jim, you don’t know. So maybe Spock was right in the end. Maybe you were both often right after the fact. Point is, how many times did you sit down and wonder if you could have done it better? Seems to me it takes a smart guy to learn a lesson when he goes wrong but an even smarter guy to do the same learning when he turns out to have been right.”
“I’ll accept that as a maxim, Bones,” Kirk said, trying to keep the tone light in a conversation which was slipping out of control, which had started off with the simple intention of trying to get Spock to admit to his feelings when Kirk had been trapped in the interspace. “I’ll accept it as a maxim but I hope that we did a lot of that learning, nonetheless. Going to tell us what we should have done differently this time?”
“How much time have you got? Oh, yes, of course, forty two days – well, that’s good, there may even be a small amount of time left over for you to check Spock’s memory of long multiplication. You first, Jim. You must have been out of your cotton-pickin’ mind going over to the Defiant in the first place. Oh, what do we have? A starship which isn’t really there. So what do you do? Send out a science team to investigate? No, not James T Kirk, of course, you have to command the landing team personally. And when coming back is dodgy, of course you have to be the one who stays behind. It doesn’t add up. So you’re joined at the hip to your ship. You’re obsessed with her, when they take her away from you it’s like you’ve lost an arm, you start falling apart and you’ll pull every string in the book to get her back. But on the other hand, if you cultivate a command dynamic which means the ship breathes through your finger tips and then you walk into critical personal danger with your eyes wide open – well, how’s the ship supposed to breathe then? As for Spock,” the doctor pushed himself away from the bulkhead and jerked his head towards the Vulcan. “I’m going back for my last hour in what they have the nerve to call a bed. You ask him, Jim. Ask him what happened when he decided to hang around with the Tholians and risk everyone’s lives for your sake. Ask him how hard he tried to bring with him an emotionally traumatised crew who’d just lost their beloved captain. Ask him whether he ever tried using words shorter than five syllables. Ask him how long it took him to arrange a meeting with your grieving senior crew and how long he spent talking about your loss – considerably less than a minute, from recollection, largely to say he wasn’t up to the job of paying a tribute to you - and wasn’t that the truth? He tried to bar me from attending the meeting and he tried to get out of listening to your last orders. And all the time, the logical thing to do would have been to head for home at warp speed 10, especially after he’d added up your coordinates and divided them by two and got the wrong answer. Ask him why he didn’t and see if he’s got the guts to acknowledge it. I’ll only say something I’ll regret if I try. I’ve only been here ten minutes and I’m already tired.”
Into the silence which followed McCoy’s departure, Kirk said, quietly,
“I know why you stuck around in Tholian space, Spock. I have no need to force you to say it and I’m grateful, of course. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started this particular hare running.”
“It will be necessary in fifty-three minutes to effect a minor course correction by 0.80 degrees to avoid a Romulan patrol vessel.”
“McCoy shoots from the hip, and we both know it.”
“We will need to hold the adjusted course for 98.5 minutes and then revert to our original trajectory.”
“You make a damn good CO under any circumstances; you know it, I know it and I’m on record as having told HQ so.”
Spock’s hands left the console slowly, as if regretful that the excuse for evasion was over. He studied them briefly, and then folded his arms and said,
“I would be interested in your views on the doctor’s perspective on your approach to landing parties, Captain.”
Kirk’s reply was immediate and casual, the dismissal of an argument heard far too often to be of interest, “You can’t command from the bridge, Spock. You know that and I know that.”
“Dr McCoy is correct that your loss would at any time in your career, past and future, be extremely damaging to the ship. You are the least dispensable member of the crew. I know that you will have received considerable Academy training and guidance to that effect.”
Kirk’s mouth tightened slightly, and then he let the irritation go.
“Spock, we’ve had this argument a hundred times before. I am only of value to the crew because I command the ship. I only command their confidence because I lead from the front. If I were the kind of CO who sat in the centre seat and sent men to their deaths, I wouldn’t be me.”
“You might, however, enjoy command for a longer period of time.”
Kirk smiled, then. “Perhaps. I’ve managed so far – admittedly, with you covering my back. But it’s no use, Spock. Like they say, I have to be the best James T Kirk I can be. Not a lot of point in me trying for a different command persona. It won’t fit and the crew won’t buy it.”
Spock was silent. Kirk was incorrect – they had, in fact, had the discussion two hundred and seven times before, with very little variation. As a matter of fact, he accepted Kirk’s perspective and had always known that Kirk was that rare and talented commander who knew by instinct how to lead and that to interfere too much with that intuition would be to jeopardise it. He had heard other views. He knew that McCoy thought Kirk plain restless from time to time; had come close himself on occasion to believing that Kirk lacked the stomach to carry too many deaths on his conscience. He had settled, however, a long time ago, for backing Kirk on this one, on the opposite side of the ring from McCoy, even if that meant backing Kirk all the way to the day that the Vulcan came home alone. And even if that meant an illogical engagement in two hundred and seven conversations with only one possible outcome.
Kirk’s own thoughts, on the other hand, also ceded more ground than his words. The truth was that his views on Starfleet Regulations had taken a knock after the Reliant had closed on the Enterprise and Saavik had said, Sir, may I quote General Order Twelve? and Spock had said Lieutenant, the Admiral is well aware of the Regulations (which Kirk had without difficulty translated as, Admiral Kirk is as interested in the Regulations as he is in Latin syntax and the easiest thing to do is to give up now and let him win the day his own way.) Except that he had won nothing, had condemned a young crew to death and destruction, had, God help him, traded a complicit smile with Spock, ignored Saavik and started down the road to Genesis and Mount Seleya.
Nor had he forgotten that one of the last times Spock had spoken to him before the activation of Genesis, the last time, in fact, that he had used his name before that moment of recognition on Mount Seleya, had been when he had beamed down to Regulus. He had said, Mr Spock, the ship is yours, and Spock, who had spent decades of his life attempting either to substitute for Kirk on landing parties or at least maintaining his right to walk behind him (and occasionally in front of him) had merely said Be careful, Jim, with a sort of misplaced prescience, as though sensing the danger but not the target. And Kirk had smiled an appreciation of the Vulcan’s hard-won acceptance and he had beamed down to find Carol and David. And now Spock was back to calling him Captain and telling him he was the least dispensable member of the crew exactly at a point when he had less appetite for disregarding Regulations than at any time of his career. Be careful what you wish for. He had always welcomed the discovery of common ground with Spock, but both had paid a high price for this particular instance of mutual understanding.
He moved restlessly, as if to dislodge the memories, and said,
“Are you going to tell me that your handling of the Defiant situation came within Regulations?”
Spock’s eyebrows rose.
“I did nothing at any time which was not strictly compliant, Captain.”
Kirk smiled at the offended tone. He lost a bit of the tension, and then wondered all over again if Spock knew what he was doing. Before Genesis, the Vulcan would have read his face like a book and deliberately set out to lighten the atmosphere. Now, he no longer knew whether to give the Vulcan the credit for subtlety. He told himself to stop over-analysing and asked, curiously, the question uppermost in his mind,
“Going to tell me about it, Spock? No compulsion. But the person McCoy describes doesn’t sound like you. I know we have different command styles, although I’m afraid I’m yet to be convinced of your own level of compliance with landing party regulations. But not supporting the crew, not listening to my orders, not allowing McCoy to be present when you addressed the crew or to listen to my orders – it doesn’t sound like you. This is me, Jim. I know you have the emotional intelligence and intuition to handle a situation like that. Do you want to talk about it?”
Which was the question Spock had been hoping not to be asked. He had signed up to the conversation seven days earlier and was reluctant simply to take the easy way out and decline to answer the question. On the other hand, he was even more reluctant to tell Kirk the truth. And Vulcans do not lie. Which left few options, even to someone adept at calculating complex quadrilateral equations.
He could so easily have settled for a half truth. He could have said that the idea of speaking in public in a meaningful way to the crew about Kirk’s death had been considerably less palatable than facing Kor’s mind-sifter on Organia; that the idea of sharing Kirk’s last orders with an inexplicably hostile McCoy even less so. That knowing the reason for McCoy’s anger, understanding it to be an expression of grief, made it harder not easier. That, focused as he had been on saving Kirk’s life and saving Kirk’s crew, keeping in sight only that ostensibly slim but mathematically precise estimation of Kirk’s continued existence - that hearing Kirk’s voice had been the thing he wanted to do least of all. And that the hardest thing turned out to be not McCoy’s anger but his understanding – Spock, I’m sorry. It does hurt, doesn’t it? He had said, What would you have me say, Doctor? He could say the same thing now, to that hazel question posed with deceptive simplicity – Do you want to talk about it?
(Not for the first time, he wondered how easy Kirk would have found it, had their positions been reversed. There were times when Spock’s Vulcan blood, let alone the fal-tor-pan, appeared to make him a legitimate target for questions he suspected might have challenged his human captain.)
However, he was back with the fact that Vulcans do not lie and with his express agreement to this conversation and so he let out a small breath (which would have been a kind of surrender, had Vulcans surrendered) and said to the console,
“There was a single consistent reason for all those decision, Captain.”
“For you not talking about me to Bones or the crew, for not wanting to listen to my orders, for staking the odds on an impossible chance? What was that?”
And because Vulcans do not lie, even if they sometimes feel illogically challenged by the truth, Spock admitted to the console,
“I was certain at the time of your continued existence.”
Prepared for anything on a spectrum from the defensive (It was necessary to maintain a distance from illogical human emotion, to stay Vulcan, in order to save your life) to total denial (I was pre-occupied with an experiment I was conducting at the time on dilithium crystal stress levels and hadn’t actually noticed your absence) Kirk was utterly unprepared for this. He came up with the only monosyllable his brain could remember, which was
Spock said, distantly,
“There are methodologies in such an instance which are open to Vulcans due to superior mental techniques, Captain.”
Kirk stared at his First. He remembered, then, the Intrepid, Spock collapsing on the bridge in pain at four hundred deaths a sector away. He had been mystified and concerned, asked McCoy to examine the Vulcan and ordered the doctor to report back. McCoy, whilst reassuring on Spock’s general health, had been able to add little by way of clarity. He called it a deep understanding of the way things happen to Vulcans, he had said at the time, and the two had looked at each other wordlessly while the chasm had suddenly yawned, for Kirk – the sense of quite how different Spock’s differences were. And then they had come into visual contact with the single-celled giant organism and the Gamma Seven-A system crisis had been upon them and the time to consider the nature of Spock’s telepathy was over.
Kirk opened his mouth. He was not entirely sure what he was going to say – But I’m not a Vulcan, was in the mix, together with And exactly when were you going to tell me this? And also, What does that mean, exactly? But he was prepared to say none of those things in front of McCoy, who at that moment walked back into the main cabin, and the moment passed.
The main cabin was preternaturally quiet while McCoy read a medical report, Spock took readings from the computer bank and neither mustered the slightest interest in making any reference to the conversation the day before.
Spock contemplated the variations in speed maintained on the journey to date, the course plotted for the remainder of the mission and the resonance of his own words to Kirk the day before. His words - and Kirk’s face. I was certain at the time of your continued existence.
Why had it been so hard to tell him?
Uniquely placed to do so, a Vulcan-human hybrid reared on Vulcan who had spent his adult life among humans, Spock had evolved his own theories about telepathy. He knew that there had been concerns (quiet voices in the corner; a Vulcan Master who had examined him, aged six, a sense of cold precision fingering his thoughts; Sarek’s face, taut, remote and sombre) – concerns as to whether human blood would inhibit the development of his mind, whether he would be able to master the techniques which were inherent to his race. He had answered those doubts, and the voices in the corner had been one of the reasons he had gone to Gol, to put an end to the questions. He had failed, but so had many other full blood Vulcans.
(He had told himself this so many times that he scarcely understood the sentence any more. There were times when other full blood Vulcans had become a jumble of syllables, of noises, without meaning.)
Logically, if telepathy were peculiar to Vulcans, were purely hereditary, his techniques would either be significantly weakened or be entirely Vulcan in nature. What fascinated Spock was that neither was the case.
Of course, there had been moments over the years when he had been aware of his mind as part of something entirely other than himself, something part of a legacy, a continuum, a dialogue. That moment approaching Starbase Six, the awareness of the death of the Intrepid. A tragedy but also an affirmation, for him, that he was part of the Vulcan community, not a biological exile. And for all of the discomfort, the compulsion, his altered state, there had also been the days leading up to their ill-fated visit to Vulcan, when he had known T’Pring’s thoughts, had felt her awareness across several sectors as though she were taking his hand and pulling him across a room. Neither of those events – or a small number of others – had been personal to him, to Spock. They had been less times when he had been aware of himself and more times when he had been aware of being Vulcan.
The other times had been nothing to do with Vulcan. They had rather a lot to do with Kirk.
Spock’s private views on telepathy were connected with his views on rapport. Since the early months of the five year mission, he had grown accustomed to hearing his name and Kirk’s in the same sentence as the word rapport. His standard reaction was the brief lift of an eyebrow and a swift change of subject which Kirk would have effortlessly translated as irritation. Vulcans have no word for rapport. But then humans have no capacity for telepathy. And over the years, Spock had elided these concepts, like placing one pattern over another and finding that together they made a different kind of sense.
The truth was that the successful conclusion of many of the more colourful episodes of the five year mission could have been described as the result of rapport or could equally have been the result of an understanding by Spock of Kirk’s mind which amounted at times, including those of maximum stress, to a subliminal awareness of Kirk – of his whereabouts, occasionally even of his thoughts.
Murasaki 312. Jettisoning the fuel off Taurus Two. McCoy had called it a human act. Kirk had called it an act of desperation. He, Spock, knew it to have been neither. He was not a person given to despair, had not despaired in five hundred other situations, even up to and including the reactor room of the Enterprise in the Mutara Nebula. And he had grown so used to McCoy’s gibes he no longer engaged in an illogical waste of breath by pointing out that he was not, in fact, human. He also knew, on reviewing the ship’s logs of the entire incident, that when the Galileo had first been lost, Kirk had described the search as a needle in a haystack, with four complete solar systems in which the shuttlecraft might have been located.
And yet he had found the means to talk to Kirk and Kirk had managed to hear. Was that rapport?
(He remembered, then, that Kirk had described their current mission to Romulus as looking for a needle in a haystack. He wondered whether it resonated with Kirk, whether it was just an expression he liked or whether he was looking for Spock this time, too.)
He accessed without difficulty another memory – the Halkan Council mission and the mirror universe. When it was all over, Kirk had asked how he had so quickly identified the problem, and he had deflected the question, had said that it was easier for a civilised man to imitate a savage than vice versa. That was true, but it was also true that the mirror Kirk had been no fool, any more than the mirror Spock; true that instantaneously on arrival on the Enterprise the mirror captain had looked around with calculation in his eyes; and true that Spock had arrested the imposters within thirteen point three seconds of them materialising in the transporter room. He had said – Mr Kyle, order security to arrest these four men immediately and Kyle and Sulu had both looked at him in consternation. He would have been hard put to it at that stage, before the brutality the imposters had exhibited in the brig, to explain his certainty that this was not his captain – still, certainty it was. Rapport?
If it were more than rapport, this had led Spock to another conundrum. Aged twelve, he had once accompanied his parents on a visit to Earth. His father had business with Starfleet Command and his mother had wanted to visit relatives. She had taken Spock to New York’s Central Park, in the company of a rather incomprehensible collection of cousins in whom Spock rather effortlessly identified the same mixture (for opposite reasons) of wariness and patronage that he perceived in his peer group at the Vulcan youth academy. Later in the afternoon, he had excused himself and gone to explore Manhattan. Amanda had found him in New Times Square, surrounded by the noise of tourists and air-cars and the daily life of New York, and he had turned to her and said, “Mother, this planet has unexpectedly low noise levels.” Sarek’s human wife had understood immediately, had said gently, “Spock, you can’t feel an awareness of a people if they themselves cannot connect to you. Humans do not have telepathic capacity. What you are feeling is the absence of Vulcans.” And she had smiled at him, suddenly, in an expression full, had he been able to read it, of proud unshed tears, and of some other, undefined mixture of sadness and vindication, and said, “You see, darling? You are your father’s son.”
The conundrum was his awareness of Kirk.
Spock had conceived a theory on this, too, over the years. This theory revolved around another Standard word without a Vulcan translation – not rapport but hunch.
Kirk’s hunches, of course, were legendary. The captain had grown to loathe the publicity he engendered, particularly the media coverage during and after the five year mission. McCoy had tried, with only moderate success, to draw the sting by making a joke out of it, had once in that spirit cajoled Sulu into running a sweepstake on the frequency of particular phrases or concepts featuring in articles on their CO, which is how everyone knew that the top three runaway favourites were Vulcan First Officer, Enterprise and hunch. Komack had famously once yelled at Kirk during an Ops meeting “One more hunch from you, Kirk, instead of professional analysis, and I’m reassigning you to teach the basic logic course to Academy year two students!” History did not relate what happened next.
Spock stared at the stars in the main viewer of the Polaris, but in his mind’s eye he saw the constellations of Sigma Draconis, which of course he had only seen on leaving the system, because on the way in he had been reduced to automation, his brain on enforced loan to the women of Sigma Draconis Six. Kirk had had twenty four hours and more than twenty four solar systems in which to find his First Officer, and he had managed it against impossible odds. How?
Another memory, star-mapping in deep space, Balok’s Fesarius and Kirk’s game of poker. Corbomite. Spock had long schooled his face out of any reaction to that particular episode in the five year mission and so his features, gazing steadily out of the viewer and focused about twenty years earlier, betrayed no amusement at the outlandish war of minds Kirk had waged with Balok. He had called it chess, Kirk had called it poker, but in the darkest recesses of the galaxy, with nothing between the ship and annihilation except the indefinable certainty of Kirk’s own mind, it had been something entirely other, and he had known it.
What if there were aspects of human intelligence which, in evolutionary terms, could be considered on a parallel to telepathy? Would that compensate for the silence Spock had once heard in New Times Square, would it mean that the mind might be more open, more receptive than that of other human beings? And what would happen if a human with advanced intuitive powers were to undertake a prolonged close professional association with a Vulcan? Would that explain – everything?
Would it cover I was certain at the time of your continued existence?
The problem was, Spock reflected, as he brought his gaze inside the craft, glanced briefly at McCoy and began to put together an end-of-shift report for the captain – the problem was that the analysis of the similarities and differences between his mind and Kirk’s, plausible though he believed his theory to be, was the result of the fal-tor-pan and he knew it. It was Amanda who had pointed out that his mind had been retrained in the Vulcan way and he was becoming more and more aware, as they travelled into Romulan space, that he was also the person who had once touched his hand to Kirk’s, through the poisoned glass of a dying chamber, and said I have been and always shall be.
The problem was that he might very well be correct about the meaning of rapport and of hunch, but it would still be a kind of betrayal to believe that that was all it was, and Spock knew it.
McCoy had left the cabin with more hesitation than usual. He had cast a look from one to the other of his companions, opened his mouth, shut it, bestowed a blue scowl at the console and then left without a word. His captain spared a brief thought for the closed cabin door and reminded himself that McCoy, too, would have questions to ask, ghosts to lay. Kirk corrected himself. No ghosts, not on this shuttle bearing its unlooked for cargo of reunion and resurrection. Still, he would need to find time for McCoy.
Some other time. He had something to ask Spock first.
He rapidly scanned the report Spock tendered to him. His mind was on other things, but in any event he could recognise Vulcan for Saw several stars, kept on trucking and carried out some unnecessary fuel checks to avoid talking to McCoy. He remembered all over again why they were here, the insistence on tried and tested team rapport, and for the first time, really understood the reasons. He had become very accustomed to the comfortable dynamic of his senior crew. Endlessly charting the blackness of space in the company of strangers would have been a very different story. Spock would choose a month on Rura Penthe rather than admit it, but even the acidic running commentary from Georgia might be responsible for ensuring he didn’t arrive at Romulus space-happy. Or perhaps not, perhaps the Vulcan mind was better equipped to withstand the pressure and the silence of deep space. Which brought Kirk to his question.
“Spock – about Vulcan telepathy.”
Spock held himself still and raised an eyebrow. Hope was an irrational human emotion, except when it was the execution of forward planning based on a calculation of reasonable mathematical probabilities. Neither would have been a basis to believe that Kirk would not have returned to the subject at the first possible opportunity, unless you happened not to know Kirk as well as his First Officer did. Had Kirk appeared to want to talk about anything else, Spock would still have understood the conversational tactic and the true target of his captain’s opening gambit in less time than it takes to tip over a king in defeat. In an echo, had he known it, of Kirk’s own thoughts, Spock wondered why it was that an innate understanding of someone else’s thought patterns made their company more stimulating rather than the opposite.
No question had been put, so he waited.
Kirk said, slowly,
“Camus Two. Janice. Did you know?”
“Elucidate, please.” Which was less than entirely ingenuous, since Spock knew what Kirk was asking; in fact, he had already calculated the odds of Kirk raising this particular topic on this particular shift as being 79.86%. However, he had no intention of allowing Kirk to realise this even if he was aware that, short of the precision of the calculation of probability to two decimal places, Kirk understood it all perfectly.
“Did you know about the transference? Before the mind meld? If you knew I was alive, when I was missing in interspace, after we lost the Defiant, did you know that Janice – well, did you know who I was?”
Spock steepled his fingers and looked at the hands which had touched Kirk’s mind on that long ago day on the Enterprise. He said to them, now,
“I was aware that there was an anomaly. You may remember that Dr Lester’s behaviour had instigated my visit to your quarters. There would have been no other reason for me to make such an approach, and in fact you were in isolation, with all interaction with the crew prohibited.”
“I know that, Spock,” Kirk said, gently. “And I am also aware of how much I owe you for your understanding and loyalty on that occasion, as on so many.” He paused, briefly, aware of pushing Spock beyond his comfort zone, wondering if this had been what Wesley and Morrow had had in mind when relying on his rapport with Spock to carrying them through six weeks in a shuttle the size of Kirk’s kitchen in San Francisco. It crossed his mind that whatever Fleet HQ or anyone else thought that rapport meant, it probably wasn’t the sort of three-way cross-fire he and Spock and McCoy were charting beyond the Neutral Zone. And he wondered what it would be like if the person closest to you in the universe didn’t decline to speak openly to you unless he could calculate the answer to three decimal places, so that rapport looked less like the familiarity of old affection and more like Pythagoras’ theorem. Deciding, with an inner smile, that it would be like living in monochrome, he went on: “But that’s not really the question, here. I want to know if you knew.”
“Sir.” Spock said, and paused.
I want to know if you knew.
Kirk, forgetting procedures on the bridge, heartless and irrational. McCoy’s complaints of interference in medical protocol. The captain’s very demeanour at odds with everything which had come to be as second-nature as breathing to Spock, accustomed as he was to seeing his CO across the bridge, across a briefing room and seeing gestures and movements as familiar as basic algebra.
I want to know if you knew.
Going to Janice Lester’s quarters. Negotiating his way past the guard who was posted there – Galloway: naïve, stubborn, loyal – the very epitome of what he knew would be the human reaction to the only evidence he would be able to offer in defence of his captain. Fencing with the person who wore Lester’s face, aware for the first time in hours of familiarity, of dialogue within known parametres. The vast relief (had Vulcans felt relief) of being given permission, of being able to see and touch – of reaching the place he was seeking, like the almost physical satisfaction of knowing, without the need for corroboration, the correct answer to a complicated calculation. And being aware also, even as his fingers had left Kirk’s temples, that the captain had known, too, that his mind had touched Kirk’s and been recognised.
I want to know if you knew.
“Sir,” he said, again, “it has been necessary, in conducting myself among humans, to whatever degree necessary and reasonably practical, to inhibit telepathic awareness. You are aware that I am primarily a touch telepath and you are also aware that, for this reason, it is considered an intrusion, on my planet, to initiative casual physical contact outside the mind meld. However, human beings tend not to retain awareness of this fact and a high frequency of touching between them is customary. Without an accustomed level of inhibition, I would have been privy during my time on the Enterprise to a significant quantity of personal opinions and observations which were intended to be kept private from me.”
Kirk considered this.
“I understand that,” he said. “In fact, I think I knew. Are you saying that the same goes for – well, for any other form of telepathic awareness?”
I want to know if you knew.
When was it that he had first realised, had registered this subliminal awareness of Kirk? Certainly long before Camus Two. He had instinctively ignored it from the start, uncertain of how Kirk would view it and very reluctant to trespass. It had become a matter of habit to school himself against it, except when danger threatened, as in the Tholian incident, when he had unfurled it again, had tested it out, like walking on a disused tightrope, uncertain how long it will bear your weight.
So beaming up from Camus Two had been almost physically disorientating. He had shut down the instinctive reaction, which had clamoured to be heard, and the sensation had been almost vertiginous, as though he had been walking around the ship without the normal support of his senses.
Relying on the evidence of a mind meld was one thing. He had said to Kirk, then, My belief is not acceptable evidence, and had still been forced to present it as such, on the stand. Even that had been preferable to the alternative, to admitting to the tightrope, the disorientation.
He said now, to Kirk,
“Yes, sir,” and hoped that it was sufficient. Judging by his captain’s face, it was not. Neither this, nor the fact that Kirk seemed disposed to let him off, surprised him.
But Kirk was chasing another thought.
“Something to learn, do you think, from Janice, Spock?”
Spock’s eyebrow shot up, predictably.
“Are you referring to the fact that the experiment on Camus Two is only evidence that life-entity transfer can be achieved for a limited period of time?”
Kirk smiled, content to have provoked the expected reaction.
“No, Commander. Nothing much to learn there. Some things are better left undisturbed, even in the interests of science.”
Uncertain if the ship’s science officer was being needled or whether Kirk needed distraction from a long ago tragedy, Spock continued,
“Are you referring to the shortcomings of psychopathy, kidnap and attempted murder, sir?”
“I don’t think you have much to learn there, either. And please don’t start on her unusual approach to disciplining the crew. But I did wonder what you thought about her motivation.”
Kirk’s face shut down a little, the light-hearted exchange over. His eyes looked past Spock’s in a remembered gesture of regret, and he said quietly,
“Yes, that too. I guess I deserved it.” And then his tone changed, and he said, more lightly, “Actually, I was thinking more about the gender thing.”
“You are referring to her dissatisfaction with the fact of having been born a woman?”
“That’s right. It poisoned everything. And it was why, to be honest, things didn’t work out for us all those years earlier. Well, I’m not saying what would have happened otherwise – I don’t have a great track record, I know, and even then I was headed for deep space and that’s not conducive to long term, long distance relationships. Still, it was hard, you know.” Kirk was clearly a long way away, and the Vulcan waited, patiently.
“Hard in what sense, sir?”
“Hard to live with someone who doesn’t like themselves very much,” Kirk said to the stars. “Always thought, you know, that relationships don’t create happiness. It’s often the burden of expectation which breaks them – the idea that being with a person will make you happy. Seems to me it’s the other way round – it’s only if you’re happy within yourself that you can start making someone else happy. She was so angry with herself, so bitter. Oh, she was bright, beautiful, funny. But we never stood a chance. We just breathed in bitterness, whenever we were together.”
“I am somewhat at a loss, sir, to understand.” He was unsure quite where Kirk had gone; unusually, his ignorance was unfeigned. “You were alluding to a lesson to be learned from Dr Lester.”
The hazel eyes came back to the Polaris, and Kirk smiled.
“Sorry, old friend. Ancient memories. And she’s long gone.”
“Is Dr Lester no longer alive?”
“She died on Starbase Two. A few months after we took her there. Coleman told me; I asked him to keep me informed.”
Spock was quiet. There seemed little to say, and Kirk appeared to have dropped the subject of I want to know if you knew, which was at least a matter for some satisfaction. His own attention dropped to the console and a companionable silence fell, broken only much later by Kirk, who reached for the chess board, set up the pieces and said,
“Not meaning to call you a psychopath or a kidnapper, Spock. But you’re too intelligent not to see the parallel. She lost all the potential she had for being the best, the brightest, because she wanted to be something different, something else. But there’s nothing wrong with being a woman, just as there’s nothing wrong with being half human. We are who we are, you know. All of us. We just have to make the most of it and make it a gift to those around us. Your move, Commander.”
“First thing I’m going to do when I get home,” McCoy said dreamily, eyes fixed in mid-air, “is take myself down to the parkland west of the Savannah, south of Augusta, where my dad used to keep a boat, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest trace of anything. Going to head downriver a day or two, going to feel the breeze on my face and going to moor up for the night where there’s no one else to see, not so far as a voice can carry - and a voice can carry a long, long way when the night is black and the fields are empty.” He let his voice die away, tilted his head back, closed his eyes briefly and then opened them directly at Kirk to say severely
“And I’m not once going to think of either of you.”
Kirk gave him a grin.
“You’re just saying that, Bones. It’ll feel so strange without us, you’ll be asking to be back in the Polaris before the first bend in the river.”
“Nevertheless,” Spock said, from Kirk’s left, “it is of interest that your preferred situation appears to be supplied by a method of transport. Whilst the environment may contrast in many ways, there is perhaps less that is inherently objectionable to you in a shuttle journey to Romulus if your optimal circumstances are a boat on the Savannah river.”
“Well, of all the nonsensical, idiotic, insensitive, ridiculous, ignorant pieces of baloney, that takes the biscuit,” came the inevitable irate response, while Kirk sat back in amused resignation. “This shuttle has about as much in common with a boat on the Savannah as you do with my great uncle Bob. Last time I checked you both had ten fingers and toes. Difference is, he made sense occasionally, when he hadn’t had too much bourbon. Why on earth would I want to be locked up in half a shuttle with the pair of you, just because I can appreciate the peace of a boat on the water on a Georgian evening?”
“I merely attempted to suggest, doctor,” the Vulcan said, unperturbed, “that had your preference, for example, been the company of a much larger quantity of individuals, I could have more readily understood your frustration at being unable to leave the Polaris.”
McCoy eyed him.
“Let me tell you something, Mr Spock,” he said, getting to his feet. “You have absolutely no idea what frustration means to anyone unfortunate enough to be exposed for any length of time to your company. I’d choose the mosquitos on the river any day. But forget Savannah, I’m expecting to be hauled straight from this shuttle to the funny farm. As for you, I imagine first chance you get when you’re back, you’ll go find a bigger computer to talk to. Have a good shift, Jim. Another day gone. Thank God for small mercies.”
In the wake of the doctor’s departure, Kirk rubbed his face and took the seat vacated by McCoy. Looking across at his companion, he caught a speculative look on Spock’s face.
“Do you have a question, Mr Spock?”
“I was merely curious, Captain, as to what your own destination of choice might be, once the mission is accomplished.”
Kirk smiled, slowly.
“Well, I might take a leaf out of Bones’ book and talk about going home, back to Iowa. God knows that offers contrast enough, if I needed it. But in fact, I’m planning on taking that trip to Yosemite. Still got the gear, waiting in my apartment, and El Capitan is still there, waiting for me.” He shot a sideways look at Spock. “Asked you before if you wanted to come with me, Spock. Would still like your company, if you’ve had time to think about it.”
Spock did not answer immediately, and Kirk saw that the reason was not a refusal of the invitation but that the Vulcan had something on his mind, something to do with a boat on the Savannah and the cliffs of El Capitan. He watched and waited, and into the silence between the two and the deeper silence which had persisted since the Neutral Zone, the console beeped.
The Enterprise’s First Officer was the first to move, lightning swift. He bent over the monitor, fingers accessing blind sequences in a display of proficiency which would have come naturally to any world standard concert pianist. And then Spock turned to his CO, hesitation gone, as if the tentative personal exchange had never started.
“It is a basic universal binary distress signal, Captain.”
“We are passing through a small system,” Spock said. “The strength and direction of the signal suggests to me that it originates from the largest planet, which is sixty seven point eight thousand metres at zero seven mark two.”
“And the planet?”
“Readings indicate Class M, sir. Nitrogen oxygen atmosphere, extensive plant and animal life forms. No immediate evidence of advanced civilisation, Romulan or otherwise.”
“Then who’s talking to us?”
“Unknown. It must,” Spock added, “be at least a computable possibility, given the nature of the signal, that it is automated and the reason for its establishment defunct.”
Kirk drummed his fingers lightly on the arms of his chair. Spock watched, didactic memory recalling the same dynamic a thousand times on the bridge of the Enterprise, decisions which had led to discovery and challenge and tragedy and triumph – before, inevitably, the subsequent post mortem. Spock knew, better than anyone, the effect on Kirk on taking life and death decisions in the way most people decide whether to have another cup of coffee. He also knew that it was something of the measure of the man that he had fought for the right to go on taking those decisions, after Starfleet had offered him a gentler choice.
Here, though, it was just the two of them, the Polaris and McCoy. And their orders, of course.
“I’m going down,” Kirk said abruptly, as Spock had known he would.
“Sir, the orders from Starfleet Command –“
“- said nothing about distress calls or visiting friends on the way. Lay in a course, Commander. We’ll just check it out, stretch our legs.”
“My lower limbs,” said Spock, “are in no need of being lengthened. Moreover –“ but he checked, in mid-sentence, at the look on Kirk’s face, and he knew why. It was the first time since Mount Seleya he had embarked on a Vulcan tease; he could see written all over Kirk’s face the question which had entirely supplanted the uncertainty of thirty seconds ago. Is there someone down there in trouble, or am I taking us into a trap? had become Does Spock know what he is saying? Was that – was that really a joke?
He turned to lay in a course to take them into orbit and hit the shuttle’s intercom system, unused until that point, and said to it, “Dr McCoy, your presence is requested in the main cabin” and reached for communicators and phasers, entirely because they were necessary landing equipment and not because it allowed him to conceal his expression from Kirk, to ascertain the way ahead (and not just on the planet below). He heard McCoy grumble, “I know my rights – it’s not my shift. Can’t the two of you manage for five minutes without me?” and Kirk said, briefly,
“There’s a distress signal emanating from a planet nearby, Bones. Spock and I are going to check it out. The Polaris is yours. Try not to break anything.” His tone was entirely normal and the only sound in the cabin, as the shuttle turned smoothly at the Vulcan’s bidding into the familiar circle of orbit, was of McCoy retrieving a coffee and Kirk making a log entry. The moment was gone and the two of them were beaming into the old accustomed familiarity of planetfall, of the search for unknown answers and for the shape of the way home.
“Here is your answer, Captain.”
Kirk had materialised into dazzling sunshine and a sweep of grassland. He could hear birdsong, sweet and clear in an otherwise peaceful silence. Trees swayed in a gentle breeze. Above him crowded a range of hills, standing benevolently around the valley, shoulder to shoulder, reminiscent of the stance of the Vulcan backing him up. He took a moment silently to thank a benevolent deity for the simple fact of Spock’s presence there, just behind him. He had beamed down to a number of destinations after they had stopped serving together, and had never quite got used to the feel of materialising without Spock behind him. It had grown to feel so much part of the transporter effect that he felt more naked beaming down to San Francisco without it than would have been the case transporting into a Romulan stronghold with just Spock at his back.
He hoped that wasn’t exactly what he had just done.
He also wondered, again, It was a joke, wasn’t it? Spock just made a joke – and then he put the thought away, and his eyes were raking the prospect in front of him, analysing, checking out. Spock had his tricorder in his hands and Kirk stepped away slightly, looking around.
McCoy had been right, of course, about his Georgian boat, and so was he, with his plans of Yosemite. This was the antidote to the Polaris, this soft green footfall, the wind on his face, the vista of hills. He drew a deep breath, and Spock said,
“There are no humanoid or Romulan life forms, Captain. I surmise, however, that the source of the signal is at three hundred and twenty six metres to our left, where the tricorder indicates an artificial construction.”
Kirk nodded and the two set off in a companionable silence. In the direction Spock had indicated was a low hill on which, as they drew near, appeared a small stone edifice at the top of a flight of stone steps. Kirk ran up, two at a time, with Spock behind him. The Vulcan had long since ceased to insist on going first on these occasions, and he had known that his CO would be first to arrive at the anomaly, just as he had known that Kirk would take the stairs two at a time. He would not have been able to explain how he knew or why Kirk did it, just that it was true, that he would take the first step with his right foot, and then the third and the fifth and the seventh, because he always did. He even knew that at the top Kirk would pause infinitesimally, wait for Spock to catch up and survey the hills briefly, hand up to shade his eyes from the sun, before the two regarded the edifice together.
Spock reached out to a device embedded at shoulder height.
“Here, Captain, is the point of origin. It is a simple binary electronic emitter.”
“For what purpose?”
“Unknown. However, it may simply act as a marker. It is likely that this building functions as some sort of memorial.”
“To the dead?” Kirk walked around the stone wall. There was no point of entry, simply a shape on a hill in the sunshine. On one side, an area of perhaps half a metre square had been smoothed and words were cut deep into the stonework.
“It is a memorial to the departed,” Spock confirmed.
“Is it Romulan custom to bury the dead in places like this? The planet isn’t even inhabited.”
“I do not believe it is a tomb, sir. I suspect it marks an historical event.”
“With a distress signal. Perhaps that is the Romulan way, a sign of grief.” Kirk reached his hand to the stone, which was cold to the touch. “Well, mystery solved.” Spock watched him as he hesitated briefly, then picked up his communicator.
“Kirk to Polaris. Bones, we’ve found the source of the signal. It appears to be an old memorial. We’ll wait here twenty minutes before beaming up, just to check there’s nothing untoward.”
He put the communicator away, smiled cheerfully at the Vulcan, walked over to the brow of the hill and sat down.
“Sir,” said Spock carefully, “would you like to elucidate on the purpose of waiting here for twenty minutes?”
“Well, I think it would be prudent to ensure we’re not missing anything. And I owe myself twenty minutes in the sunshine, Mr Spock. You’re allowed to enjoy it, you know. It’s just paradise; it’s not a dereliction of duty.”
He leaned back on his elbows, and Spock said, slowly,
“Might I make an observation, Captain?”
“In the past twenty years I’ve never once been able to stop you,” said Kirk, pleasantly. The Vulcan checked and opened his mouth, and Kirk corrected himself, hastily, “I mean, of course, go on.” And he saw, then, somehow, that what Spock wanted to say was to do with Yosemite and had been interrupted by the binary signal and so he put his arms on his knees, sat up and waited.
“Sir, you appear to be perturbed by certain choices you believe I make in relation to the range of options presented by a combination of human and Vulcan heritage.”
“That’s a fair approximation,” Kirk conceded.
“Whilst you believe that options available to me include the conscious assumption of Vulcan customs and cultures on the one hand and human comportment on the other, your tendency is to criticise whenever circumstances dictate either extreme, instead preferring me to compromise through a combination of behaviours.”
You don’t like it when I’m either human or Vulcan. You want me on the fence, in the place of conflict and compromise. McCoy had said something very similar, a few days ago, and he had been right, too. This was Spock’s response to the parallel he had drawn about Janice Lester’s self-hatred. He had wondered what it would be.
“That’s probably fair enough,” Kirk conceded. “Where are you going with this, Spock? And what’s the connection to El Capitan?”
“I merely observe, sir, that most beings carry around their own dichotomies. Mine is perhaps more obvious, given my biological heritage, and certainly gives the good doctor substantial ammunition for constant gratuitous commentary. However, you yourself carry no less inner conflict.”
It wasn’t a memory to which he’d expected Spock to bring him. It was a place comprising territory long forbidden to himself by Kirk, even in the most solitary of musings. Sulu, freezing on the planet; Rand’s tears and accusing eyes; his own arms around a silent figure in gold, stepping up to the transporter platform. I don’t want to go back…. The imposter’s back where he belongs. Let’s forget him. And even as he began the customary instinct to clamp down on the memory, he saw a look of comprehension on the Vulcan’s face, and knew immediately that he was mistaken.
“Forgive me, Captain. I was not referring to events on Alpha 177.”
He nodded, registering the look of consternation on Spock’s face. Spock knew exactly what the memory meant to Kirk, would have been dismayed to have been thought capable of bringing it up. He said nothing, but watched the Vulcan almost visibly giving him time to come back to the moment. And Kirk realised how far they had come, even in the brief ten days since leaving Earth. This Spock, the Spock who knew exactly what Kirk was thinking, who was perturbed at inadvertently raising the ghost of Kirk’s own divided self, had never walked by his side to Sausalito and refused to call him Jim. He would settle for this. Even if the rest of the journey took longer than he thought, even if they always bore the scars of Mount Seleya, he had been wrong to be scared off by Spock’s lesson about didactic memory, by the Vulcan’s stiff manner since his return, as though he were invoking long disused dialogue, rusty connections, dusty words. So what? This was his friend.
He smiled at Spock, found it came quite easily, despite the old ghosts.
“Why don’t you sit down? Tell me about my inner conflict.”
Somewhat to his surprise, Spock lowered himself to the top step, and said,
“I merely observe, Captain, that you manifest, from time to time, two opposing tendencies or inclinations. One is embodied in the command persona, and the other lies in the desire for peace, solitude and the pursuit of nature. Surely, they are no less diverse than elements in my own psychological profile? And yet you rarely achieve a compromise where they are both present in any obvious way. Your normal pattern is to live fully in the command function. Your preference when not on duty is to engage in very different pursuits.”
Kirk considered this. He couldn’t help but feel encouraged that Spock was turning the tables, was quite flattered to be the object of Spock’s psychoanalysis but that didn’t mean he was necessarily going to agree with it.
“I see your point,” he said. “But it’s hardly the same, is it? What I choose to do with my time depending on whether I’m on duty or not is very different from the sorts of choices you make.”
“I may have over-simplified my point. Let me re-phrase it.”
Kirk bit back a grin. At least one thing was unchanged. There was something about the way Spock attempted to make himself clear to human interlocutors which had never failed to amuse his captain. It always involved an inference of adopting the language of inferior intellect, of a renowned professor attempting to address a promising pre-school gathering, which Kirk found particularly endearing, coming as it did from the least arrogant of beings.
“It was evident to me, when serving with you on the Enterprise,” continued the least arrogant of beings, “that you were constantly drawn to two extremes in terms of personal circumstance. One was dominant, and that was the command function. The other was the opposite entirely, the abnegation of all responsibility.”
Kirk looked at him, curiously, wondering if he was going to have to revisit the entirety of the five year mission from the perspective of having been covertly psycho-analysed by Spock.
“You’re talking about Miramanee, aren’t you? The obelisk.”
“In part. There were other occasions.”
“Sir, your natural inclination is to describe an unspoiled planet as a “paradise”. This brings with it a range of connotations and imputes a certain frame of mind. You may also recall this dynamic with regard to Gamma Trianguli Six and Tyree’s planet. On all those occasions, you used phrases such as “the Garden of Eden” and you also spoke of serpents, of the departure from Eden, even of Satan. Colourful imagery, but nonetheless indicative of a state of mind, of a value set. Before you were lost below the obelisk, Dr McCoy spoke of the Tahiti syndrome.”
Kirk regarded him a little warily. He was not given to being cross-examined on his psyche and had had in the past more than one sharp exchange of words with McCoy on the subject – which, to be fair, McCoy had taken in good part. Kirk was apt to say that he was aware of being a flawed human being and would prefer to admit to such and avoid the need for spending too much time with his faults, face to face. Fairness demanded now, however, that he hear what Spock had to say.
Spock appeared to take his silence as an invitation to continue.
“Almost your first words on beaming down to Gamma Trianguli Six, in naming it a paradise, were by implication critical of Starfleet. Dr McCoy suggested that our intrusion was unfortunate and your response was that you were operating under orders and had no choice. In fact, during most of that particular mission, you constantly questioned your orders. When Ensign Mallory was killed, you yielded to self-recrimination and you seemed both to be protective of the planet and of the crew you had lost on the one hand, and resentful of Starfleet orders on the other.”
“Nothing much wrong with your memory, Spock. What are you trying to say?” Perhaps this was as good a way forward as any. Perhaps letting Spock sort out Kirk’s own mind might even, conversely, be a better way to restore them, to find the way back.
“I am suggesting, sir, with respect, that your conduct indicates that you are torn between two extremes, between the command role and between the privacy of what is known as the simple life. And your choice has always been extreme. You could have lived a different kind of life, which would have involved both elements in your daily existence, but you chose instead to deny a not insignificant part of who you are, to the great benefit, of course, of Starfleet and the Federation. Nevertheless, I believe this indicates that you made a choice not dissimilar to mine.”
Kirk stared at him.
And Spock looked back, with rather more trepidation than he was prepared to disclose in his impassive features. He was aware that Kirk allowed him a very significant amount of personal latitude, but he also knew that the odds were vanishingly small (29,851 to one against) that anyone else, saving perhaps McCoy, would have dared to suggest to James T Kirk how his brain worked.
The truth was that the day after Kirk had been retrieved from the obelisk and Miramanee had died, McCoy had arrived at Spock’s quarters with an unprecedented bottle of guava juice and an even more unprecedented apology. Spock had been unprepared for either and only really interested in the guava juice. However, it transpired that McCoy had felt the need to talk through what had happened, the days and nights of the journey back to the obelisk, the dread of being too late, the single fear which had united and divided the two of them and which no one else, not even Kirk, would ever know. And although the words “I apologise, Mr Spock, you were absolutely right and I was entirely in the wrong” had yet, to Spock’s knowledge, ever in twenty years to cross McCoy’s lips, he had also come to the Vulcan’s quarters to acknowledge the lonely road that Spock had walked down, those fifty nine days on his way back to Kirk, with everyone else giving up or, worse, looking at him with open accusation.
And this was how Spock knew how McCoy viewed the whole episode. The strange thing being that, illogical as it was, at some point, Spock had adopted this view himself.
From McCoy’s perspective, the reality of the history was so entirely surpassed by what it symbolised that the facts – a beautiful planet, a dead girl buried with a child who never drew breath – were almost mythical. Kirk had arrived at the obelisk planet and had fallen in love with another reality, the choice he had never made. No problems, no command decisions, just living. And, somehow, that was what he had accordingly managed for himself. He had lost command, lost the ability (let alone the need) to decide, had embarked on just living. Had swum and slept and laughed and loved. Had made a child. Had given up everything. And would have done so permanently, except that Spock had refused to let him make the choice. Spock had walked deep space for fifty nine days and nights and brought Kirk back not only physically but mentally to the ship he had surrendered. And Kirk had, at Spock’s insistence, accepted back the gift of command, of the life he had chosen first.
Which was interesting in the context of choices and the decisions Spock had made about his own future and those which Kirk had wanted to make for him.
There was a silence, there on the hill top by the strange stonework, into which Kirk said absolutely nothing. After a little while, Spock continued,
“Your role has necessitated both the abnegation of self and the interference with a number of Edens, and I suggest that one exemplifies the other. Perhaps, sir, the exemplar of all the occasions when you have defied the Prime Directive was with regard to yourself.”
Kirk gave a wry smile.
“Perhaps, sir. I do not mean to criticise. Far from it. Whilst you overtly would have preferred other choices to those I have made for myself, I have, as you know, only admiration for the way in which you have excelled in your chosen path. I simply suggest that we all make choices. Further, it seems to me that only someone who has the self-discipline to make choices for himself can make choices on behalf of an entire planet.”
Kirk stirred. He had put up a shield against some of the memories Spock had conjured up, was deliberately distancing himself from some of the images but was unable not to interject, at that point,
“Not always choice, Spock. There were plenty of times I had no choice at all. Plenty of times I made the wrong one. You brought up Tyree. Nothing much to be proud of there.”
“And other times? The choice you made at Gamma Trianguli Six was that it was better to leave paradise if paradise were stagnation. As you know, I entertained doubts on that decision. You were the one who had the strength to be able to make it, perhaps because you had already made choices about leaving behind personal stagnation when you decided on command. Consider Eiminiar Seven. Hardly a paradise when we arrived, Captain, but you were prepared to take the decision which changed their future for the better.”
He smiled then, more naturally.
“Much to your chagrin, as I remember, Commander.” Spock had said, A feeling is not much to go on, and he had replied, Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on. And Spock had said, in one of his biggest ever end-of-mission concessions, Captain, you almost make me believe in luck, and he still remembered the rush of warmth, had looked at Spock and reflected how they had come through yet another day, he and this other-half of himself from a different world, and said Mr Spock, you almost make me believe in miracles.
“You took those poisoned thorns for me,” he said suddenly. “On Gamma Trianguli. You deliberately pushed me aside and took them.”
Spock looked back, and then said, very gently,
“I apologised at the time for my clumsiness.”
“I didn’t mean-“
“You rightly pointed out that Starfleet had invested significant amounts in my training and that I should have been mindful of this in preserving myself from unnecessary risk.”
Kirk gave him a sharp look and the Vulcan looked blandly back.
Yes, that was exactly what he had said. Spock had pushed him out of the way so fast he had hardly understood what was happening until Spock was lying on the ground and McCoy was treating him and getting no response; he had tried to get them off the planet but the transporter had failed and then he had seen Spock sitting up and the shattering relief had turned immediately to anger – Just what do you think you were trying to do? – and just as swiftly to the refuge of Do you know how much Starfleet has invested in you? Of course, he had known that Spock would immediately translate this as You scared me.
Was he forgetting that he, too, was experienced in translation?
Merely my quite logical relief that Starfleet had not lost a highly proficient captain.
Should he have seen in that light, It would not be proper to refer to you as Jim whilst you are in command, Admiral? Spock’s comments on the Polaris on Gary Mitchell, on Edith - It was not a logical reaction and remains inconsistent with the competencies and behaviours necessary for command?
Perhaps in some cases, not others. No question Spock was opening up, was changed from the more forbidding figure of the first couple of days on the shuttle.
Was this what Spock was trying to tell him?
He took a chance, said,
“Well, that’s all very well, but it’s not to happen again, Commander. After all, you’ve got to factor in not only Starfleet’s investment but the fal-tor-pan as well, now. So – no more clumsiness, right?”
“That would seem logical.”
“And there’s absolutely no question of any personal involvement in the object of the exercise – I mean, it’s not as though you were trying to save my life, or anything like that, right?”
“That would be a presumption on my part, Captain.”
“Damn right. It’s not as though I hadn’t seen the problem. In fact, you just got in the way when I was trying to avoid the plant.”
“It was unforgiveable of me to hinder your escape, sir.”
“Apology accepted. On which note,” he said, pushing himself off the grass and climbing to his feet, “I think our time is up.” He turned back to the stonework.
“How old do you think it is, Spock?”
“The monument? I would estimate perhaps fifteen years, sir.”
“Nothing to do with Colton, then. And the binary emitter?”
Spock picked up the tricorder. He angled his head in a way which, Kirk knew, often substituted for a change in tone, and said,
“It appears to have been manufactured less than a year ago.”
Kirk raised his eyebrows.
“Suggesting that someone is trying to show us something. At any rate, there’s no current emergency, so I think we can resume our journey.” Turning, he laid a hand on the cold stonework one last time, in a gesture of salute or farewell which took him by surprise.
“I wonder who he was,” he said, and then his communicator sounded and he nodded to Spock as McCoy’s voice filtered through and the transporter effect took them away from the hillside.
Back again in the enclosed sterility of the shuttle, he noticed that Spock went straight to the computer banks and watched as the Vulcan effected a download from the tricorder and studied the results.
“What are you looking at, Spock?”
The Vulcan turned with a preoccupied expression.
“I recorded a visual image of the writing on the edifice, Captain, with a view to obtaining a Romulan translation from the computer’s linguistic coding. It appears to comprise a single name.”
“And that is?”
Kirk’s eyes widened.
“It is reasonable to assume that there are many Romulans of that name, Captain,” Spock said, but for all that his demeanour was the Vulcan equivalent of uncertain.
“Does make you wonder, though.”
“What are you wondering, Jim?” McCoy asked, coming back into the cabin.
“We’re on our way to Romulus to meet up with a Romulan called Marillus, and we get diverted to an unmanned distress signal built into a memorial to someone of the same name.” He remembered the moment on the planet, an unexpected feeling of awareness of the dead Romulan, and then, Kirk-like, he put the memory away and nodded crisply to Spock.
“Set a course to Romulus, Spock. Warp factor six. Let’s go.”
Scotty’s very particular way of referring to the ship’s engines was such a part of life on the Enterprise that Kirk occasionally found himself thinking in terms which would otherwise sit somewhere between incomprehensible and embarrassing. The truth was that sitting in the companionable silence of a shift on the Polaris he would think of the engines behind him with a mental picture of the harnessed strength of a tireless animal, making for the Romulan homeworld with relentless, even strides, eyes unblinking and fixed on the stars ahead.
Which was why, the day after the encounter with the stone monument, when the engine tone changed, abruptly, the image which flashed into Kirk’s mind was the snarl of a wounded big cat.
Spock was on his feet immediately, bent over the monitor at the rear of the cabin, fingers dancing over buttons, eyes no less rapid in their search for answers.
“Report, Spock,” Kirk ordered, hoping the wound would not need major surgery, waiting to read the Vulcan’s face before he heard the words. He wondered, then, whether Spock’s face would be as transparent to him in times of crisis as it had been before Mount Seleya, and then found out that it was.
“Captain, the dilithium crystal supply is unsustainably low. We have only two days of power remaining even without warp speed. We will need immediately to change speed to impulse.”
“Do it,” Kirk said automatically, while his mind processed the implications. “How on earth did that happen? We had enough to get to Romulus and back twice over.”
“Unknown,” the Vulcan said. He was bent over the front console, adjusting the speed of the shuttle, and his voice betrayed about the same degree of reaction as back of his chair. “I have set course for orbit around the nearest planet. At impulse power, it will take three point two hours.”
“What do we have on the planet?”
“Class M, J rating. Long range scanner shows widespread signs of a technologically advanced society. There should be no difficulty in accessing dilithium supplies.”
“Absolutely none,” Kirk agreed, “provided we remember to say please.”
Spock, who had been half turned towards the console, studying readings, looked up and straightened.
“Captain,” he said, carefully, “am I to assume that your suggestion is a figure of speech?”
“No, Spock. I was planning on beaming down in full uniform, finding the guy in charge and making sure I asked nicely,” Kirk said irritably. “What on earth did you think I meant?” If this was Spock’s idea of reverting to form, post Mount Seleya, he could do without it, especially as he was going to have to do without dilithium crystals at the same time.
“You misunderstand me,” Spock said. “I was referring to your use of the first person plural.”
“Oh.” Kirk said. He let out a small exhalation, glanced at the chronometer, and smiled cheerfully at his First. “I was assuming you were coming along with me.”
“Captain, this matter was the subject of extensive briefing. I am able to pass for a Romulan and the shuttle carries appropriate uniform for this purpose. You do not have that facility without cosmetic surgery.” Briefly, a ghost passed between them, the end of another mission, a long time ago, a younger Spock’s comment – Somehow, they do not look aesthetically agreeable – and then the Vulcan continued: “It was understood that I would be better placed to undertake any missions to the surface where there were Romulans in the vicinity.”
“All true,” Kirk agreed, affably. “I’ll just come along to help.”
“I may not be able to afford effective protection.” It was the wrong thing to say, and Spock knew it, as Kirk looked coolly back and the two exchanged level looks. An ancient conversation, a conflict as old as their friendship, a battle Spock had always lost. Every single time. Spock was not entirely sure of the logic of attempting it on this occasion and Kirk was not entirely sure how the topic sat within didactic memory. He was reasonably sure of the views of the Vulcan Masters on the subject, assuming they had any. He was also quite sure that he couldn’t work with a First Officer who wasn’t going to accept the human perspective on this one.
“That’s a landing party of two, then,” the shuttle’s Commanding Officer said. “I’ll brief McCoy while you break out the landing gear, Commander.”
“That’s an order, Mr Spock.” Which meant that Spock had bowed his head and gone to the rear of the cabin to retrieve clothing, communicators and phasers, contemplating both the need to ensure that their disguise was seasonally appropriate and the nature of the disconnect between the orders Kirk received and those he bestowed.
Rocky terrain, a grey sky and a nearby steel formation materialised around them as they left the Polaris for the Romulan world below. Kirk nodded towards the building.
“There’s your dilithium, Commander. We’ll go on foot to avoid triggering their sensors, and we can be in and out in half an hour.”
“It is likely, however, that the need for speed will necessitate departure via transporter,” Spock said. “Once we are back on the shuttle behind the cloaking device, they will be unable to track us.”
He began to pick his way across the stony ground, glad that the clothing provided for this purpose had included a good pair of boots. As he walked, he stole a glance at Spock, walking silently at his side, opened his mouth and then closed it again. A number of comments had occurred to him, varying from Just like old times, then to Romulan command green definitely does something for you, to It’s called the chain of command, Spock. And yes, sometimes, you have to make decisions in the field. It didn’t do you any harm when we went to get you back from Genesis. But in fact he said none of these things (the last being by a long measure the easiest to forego) and simply enjoyed the rediscovery of a silent, old companionship, walking towards the challenge of the unknown.
In this instance, the unknown turned out to be highly foreseeable.
“My name is Decius,” Spock said to the guard, in a manner which did not court conversation. “This is my human slave. Our shuttle is in need of assistance. I wish to be directed to the engineering department.”
There was a brief conference, a hard look at Spock, and then a nod.
“She’s in her office, Commander. Fourth door on your right, once you are through the main entrance. She’ll process your request and decide.”
Spock bowed again and set off as directed, Kirk following behind.
“That seemed a little easy,” the human slave said, softly.
“Records indicate that this planet, like many other Romulan societies, is highly matriarchal,” Spock replied. “We have not passed any challenge till we meet the engineering commander.” There was a brief pause, and then, still more quietly so that Kirk wondered if he had heard correctly, Spock added, “It would be appropriate for you to comport yourself appropriately, look downwards and stay behind me at all times.”
Was that a joke? Or an attempt to ensure that he could, after all, offer effective protection? Or a deliberate ambiguity? He looked hard at his friend’s back, and said dangerously,
“Don’t overplay the part, Spock.” Spock made no reply. They were at the door; Spock glanced back once, an unreadable warning in his eyes, and then he was through into the room, Kirk at his heels.
She was beautiful. Even as the words filtered into Kirk’s brain, he thought of Scotty again, because Scott would have used them of the gleaming, sleek engines, tall and purring into the distance of the facility, and also of the evidence, everywhere, of the dilithium they sought. On this occasion, though, Kirk’s words were not following his Chief Engineer’s appetites but a more predictable direction.
She was as tall as he was. Dark pooled eyes, fierce nose, jutting chin but a keen intelligence rescuing what might otherwise have been sheer belligerence. She ignored Kirk and said directly to the Vulcan,
“Who are you and who is this?”
“I am Decius and this is my human slave. Our shuttle has run into difficulties. I am seeking dilithium crystal supplies. I have credits.”
“There is no shuttle outside.”
“We have left it at some small distance. Your facility is impressive.”
“It is the product of many years’ hard work by many hands.”
“And not just hands,” Spock said, gently. “It will also have merited strong and talented leadership.”
Pools narrowed, and there was a small rush of air as she stepped very close to him.
“Are you trying to flatter me? Because your credits are enough. I do not need anything more.”
“You do not appear to me,” he said, “to be in need of any flattery.”
There was a beat of silence, and she turned, as if ceding the conversation strand, and said,
“And who is the human?”
“Taken in the Neutral Zone,” Spock said. “My intention is to train him.”
She laughed, then, genuine amusement mixed with something glassy, something sharper.
“You are either optimistic or poorly informed, Commander Decius. Neutral Zone humans do not train well. Now, this one…” Kirk looked up, unguarded and instinctively as she drew near to him, and had a nanosecond’s warning of a gloved fist drawn back and released at his jaw as though shot from a bow.
He had forgotten about looking downwards.
He had forgotten about Romulan strength.
He remembered, a lifetime ago, dodging Spock’s fists in the Enterprise, in orbit around Psi 2000. One blow had sent him crashing across the table. This was harder; he felt something crack, fought with everything he had to stay on his feet, to keep silent and to keep his eyes down – and in doing so, just caught sight of Spock. His face was utterly expressionless.
As though he had witnessed the Romulan pouring a cup of tea or remarking on the weather.
His eyes met Kirk’s glancingly, as though they were bare acquaintances, and then the moment was over.
She gave a dry laugh, and turned back to the Vulcan.
“Good luck with that one. He’s not slave material. Which rather makes me wonder about your sense of judgement, Commander. That – or whether there is something you are not telling me.”
“All I have told you so far,” Spock said, with quiet assurance, “is that I am in need of dilithium crystals. There is a great deal else which remains unsaid.”
The two locked eyes, a shuttlecraft, a mission and three lives seemed to hang in the balance, and then she said,
“So what do I get in return for the crystals, Commander? I find I am not only interested in credits after all. Are you leaving immediately?”
“That,” Spock said carefully, “could be open to negotiation.”
She smiled, then, naturally, perhaps for the first time.
“Wait here,” she said, and was gone.
Into the silence which followed, Kirk touched his face. It felt, a little, as though it belonged to someone else. He could feel swelling on his cheekbone, wiped away a damp trickle, brought his hand down and looked at it. Red human blood. He was the alien here.
He stole a covert look at Spock, who did not look as though he was about to ask if Kirk were all right. On the other hand, being Spock, he was unlikely to say I told you so. Kirk smiled to himself, and then winced. He opened his mouth and Spock surprised him with a sharp, cutting-off gesture.
“Walk with me,” he said, without inflexion, and led the way to a small alcove to one side, where seating protruded into a bay window. Kirk looked around and thought command dignity would survive if he sat down, and subsided into a chair rather more quickly than he would ideally have liked. He opened his mouth, but Spock was there first, with an apologetic air.
“We were directly in sight of a monitor. Captain, are you all right?”
Kirk met his eyes and felt a wave of regret, almost of shame. The truth was, it was so easy to let Mount Seleya tower over everything. Spock had moved so far, the past few days, back down the road towards I have been and always shall be… Could it be that the remaining obstacle was Kirk’s own memory, his assumptions about where the Vulcan was? At no point in their joint history could he recall a Spock capable of the sort of pettiness that meant, proved correct in his advice not to embark on a dangerous mission, he would fail to manifest loyalty and concern to a hurt comrade-in-arms – Kirk, least of all. He managed a grin.
“Only damage, Mr Spock, is to my pride. I’ll keep my eyes down, from here on in.”
Spock moved one step further down that road by reading Kirk’s thoughts, without any obvious resort to telepathy.
“In fact, Captain, I suspect that your company on this mission, while regrettably at some cost to you, will prove advantageous. In retrospect, the appearance of a ranking officer on a mission such as this without any accompaniment might have appeared unusual. The more complex dynamic of a Romulan and a captured slave is likely to have diverted attention from the true anomaly.”
The feeling of shame deepened.
“You have a generous spirit, Commander.”
“Never mind. If your friend is to be disappointed in her plans for later tonight, I’ll need to contact McCoy to ensure he is standing by to beam us out of here.” His mind stayed on the Romulan engineering chief, however, as he spoke to the Polaris, and old memories surfaced as he put the communicator away and said,
“I think I owe you an apology, Spock.”
“For which offence, Captain?”
Kirk laughed aloud, and then remembered and checked himself, with another quick hand to his cheek.
“Fair enough. I guess you were a bit spoilt for choice. I think I may have cultivated a habit of putting you in difficult situations.”
“Captain, this is an endeavour to replenish stocks of dilithium crystal, not a difficult situation.” Perhaps when you had faced Khan and Genesis and Mount Seleya, difficult situation acquired a different nuance.
“Of course. Nevertheless, I wonder if I trespass too much, sometimes, beyond what you might reasonably feel you owe to Starfleet.”
“You are speaking of the opportunities for subterfuge which are presented by the fact of my being Vulcan.”
“And you wouldn’t call that a difficult situation? Spock – “ Kirk hesitated, and then went on, “You never signed up for it, did you? You could have gone to the Vulcan Science Academy but instead you chose Starfleet and you ended up exploring the unknown and charting new galaxies, but you also ended up in an espionage mission, tricking a woman, wrecking her career in all likelihood – a woman who might have been one of yours, who might have spoken your language. Literally, as well as metaphorically.”
Neither of them pretended to be speaking about the engineering chief in the complex behind them.
“Captain – we were acting under orders. I was fully cognisant when I signed up to Starfleet. I have no regrets.”
“Some orders,” Kirk said, “are less murky than others.” She had said, Our forebears had the same roots and origins. Something you wouldn’t understand, Captain. We can appreciate the Vulcans, our distant brothers. And he had acted his part and left Spock to seduce her out of honour and out of cloaking device, and he had yet once more achieved the impossible (because that was what James T Kirk did) and the memory of few missions had left him quite so uncomfortable.
“Is your concern, Captain, that you believed I was unwilling or that you believed I was too willing?”
Kirk looked over at him, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth in acknowledgement of Spock’s ready understanding.
“I thought it was something beyond the call of duty. I didn’t see it as quite your style, what you were asked to do.”
“More your own, perhaps?”
The smile grew bigger, with a hint of self-mockery.
“Is that due to a lack of credence in the sophistication of my dealings with others?”
Kirk’s head moved more sharply than he intended and he raised his hand to his cheekbone once more.
“Hardly, Spock. I don’t see you as naïve, if that’s what you are asking. I thought you might have too much integrity for a situation like that.”
“Arguably,” the Vulcan said, without inflexion, “a distinction without a difference. Neither on that occasion, however, nor on this, were my loyalties ever in question.”
“Of course not. Your loyalty is one of the eternal truths of the galaxy, Spock. Up there with gravity, sub-dimensional physics and McCoy’s choice of metaphors. I might question your stubbornness on occasion, your inability to round up, round down or make a wild guess – but your loyalty? Where did that come from?”
“Your expression when our recent interlocutor conducted an experiment on your suitability for enslavement.”
Kirk smiled ruefully. “I didn’t think you’d jumped ship, Spock. I did think you might, quite reasonably, think that I’d deserved everything I got. You didn’t really think I believed you capable of reneging, did you? That time before? Don’t tell me again that you’re a sophisticated being and you’re capable of carrying it off. I always knew that. The truth, Commander.”
Spock was silent. The truth was that didactic memory attached a number of aspects of significance to the memory of an evening on a Romulan ship with a woman in a black and white dress, shoulder bared and, across the deck, under guard, a prototype cloaking device. He had not been part of the conversation with HQ; it was Kirk, of course, who had accepted the orders, Kirk who had worked out the detail, aided by answers from Spock about the ancient relationship between Vulcans and Romulans. The Vulcan death-grip had been Kirk’s idea and Spock, who had not known he was going to object before he heard the words coming out of his mouth, had said “There is no such thing as a Vulcan death grip,” and Kirk had clapped him on the shoulder, and said cheerfully, “Excellent, I will sleep better for knowing it, but the Romulans won’t know either,” and had continued rifling through ‘Fleet encoded files on bird of prey crews, which was the point at which they had first identified Sub-Commander Tal and worked out that his CO was a woman.
Kirk had always been mistaken about her, although Spock had never taken the time to disabuse his captain. (Why not? He put the question away, let his thoughts follow the memory.) He had felt nothing for her beyond admiration for her courage and a certain satisfaction in the duel of wits over the drink she had poured him, neither of them prepared to trust or to admit to a lack of trust, every word several unspoken half-truths. The truth was that he had been so focused on Kirk – had he given him enough time? was he out of surgery? had he beamed over safely? – that it would have been impossible for the moment to have become more than it had been. It was a fantasy that he had ever had a role in those years which had not been, on some level, to back Kirk up, to provide the balance and counter-weight to every escapade and every venture.
And yet it was not a good memory, the triumphant acquisition of the cloaking device. And looking at Kirk’s face, the imprint of a Romulan fist now clear in the swollen flesh, he knew why.
The only Vulcan member of the crew, he had been very accustomed to his alien status on board the Enterprise. Kirk, like Pike before him, had only ever seen him as Spock, and not as a Vulcan or a half Vulcan, and whilst the logic of admitting it would escape Spock for the entirety of his service in Starfleet, he had learned very quickly to appreciate also the acceptance which lay beneath McCoy’s jibes. This being the case, he had never been troubled by the occasional comment from crewmen who underestimated the acuity of Vulcan hearing. But then, until the incident of the cloaking device, he had never seen his connection to an alien species as a secret weapon. Worse, he had never heard an entirely mythological lethal faculty dreamed up as though it were plausibly a vicious natural partner to the subtle and gentle strength of the Vulcan mind-meld. And worst of all, he had never seen his commanding officer and closest friend after having plastic surgery in order to resemble a being native to Romulus – or Vulcan – essentially, as though Spock were someone you could imitate, in the custom of children on Kirk’s planet at Hallowe’en. As it happened, Spock had once visited his cousins on Earth in the Earth month of October and had watched with incomprehension the exaggerated costumes and caricatured masks depicting sentient beings from other planets and concluded that the law relating to incitement to racial hatred must differ considerably between the respective jurisdictions of Earth and Vulcan.
There would have been not the slightest point in telling Kirk any of this, not least because he knew that his connection to the Romulan species was, indeed, a secret weapon, that everything Kirk had done that day had simply been one more chapter in the legend that was James T Kirk achieving the impossible and, lastly, that Spock did not doubt his own value to Kirk.
He looked now at Kirk, frowning slightly either in anticipation of the answer or in discomfort, and realised why he had never disabused Kirk of his belief as to the importance to Spock of the Romulan Commander.
It had been the least important part of the day, and at the same time, much easier than acknowledging the true source of Spock’s ambivalence towards that particular memory. And if he nurtured regrets, it would have been impossible to describe them to Kirk. It was true that she had not deserved it, true that seduction in the line of duty was more Kirk’s style than his but also true that he was uncomfortable with the sensation that Kirk had ever suspected him of divided loyalties. If possible, the idea of Spock as somehow lacking in the emotional sophistry to carry off the occasion was even less attractive.
He said now, very carefully,
“Sir, the Romulan people are fierce, warlike and brutal. No reasonable person would doubt the need to protect Federation space from their military incursion. I swore an oath to Starfleet and you are and were my commanding officer. Whatever abilities I had were at your service without question. I do not believe my performance, on that occasion, failed to give satisfaction. It is not entirely clear to me that there would have appeared any cause to believe my sympathies to have been anything but uncomplicated and undivided.”
Spock was right, of course. And Kirk had never doubted his loyalty but he had wondered about the woman, about what she might have meant to him – was that the same thing? How much had that stung the Vulcan? Kirk wondered, then, how it felt to have only didactic and not experiential memory, to be walked back through those memories by an insistent human friend but still to have to relate to the rest of the known universe. He wondered how this impacted on Spock’s ability to reach out to those who would, before Mount Seleya, have demanded their own emotional connection or resonance with the figure in front of him, wearing the green cloak of Romulan command. McCoy – how was the old dynamic reasserting itself? Slowly, Kirk thought, but not without progress. The Romulan chief engineer, though, and others who would cross Spock’s path – he wondered how he saw them, and how they saw him, this person who was walking steadily back to the stricken engineering room of the Enterprise, to experiential memory, to I have been and always shall be. To being Spock.
He said, without knowing he was going to say it.
“Spock, I always knew you were at my shoulder. I hope the knowledge of that survived the fal-tor-pan. There were times when I trusted you more with me than I trusted myself. You and you only.”
“That,” Spock said, with great emphasis and even greater predictability,” is not logical, Captain.”
“When it comes down to it,” Kirk said, remembering very keenly precisely when it had come down to it, and wondering whether Spock would too, without being told, “when it comes down to it, I would take your perspective, your evidence, over the physical laws of the Universe, regardless of how many impossible things you asked me to believe before breakfast.”
For once, Spock did not challenge the language, made not so much as a glancing reference to illogical early morning feats of the imagination. Instead, it was the voice from the past, from the five year mission, which said, very gently,
“Captain, there was no contradiction. It is in fact gravity, one of the physical laws of the Universe, which dictates that once you let it go, a hammer must fall.”
Kirk glanced up, and met a look of support unchanged from the court room on Starbase Eleven. He let the moment wash over him, held on to it as long as he needed to, and then said, quietly,
“It wasn’t just that business with Finney. There were a hundred other court martials, even when they weren’t in court. The toughest? Probably that Daystrom device – M5. You knew, then, better than I, where the battlelines were drawn, what was missing, what needed to be given in evidence.”
He was mixing metaphors horribly, he knew – thought, with a spurt of humour, of McCoy – but it was his chance to thank Spock, years after the fact and after the darkness that had followed Genesis when he had thought he’d lost the chance forever. He remembered his own doubts. Am I afraid of losing the prestige and the power that goes with being a starship captain? Not Spock. The Vulcan had entertained no doubts at all. It had taken the ship’s logical science officer to define loyalty as the only sine qua non, to claim that the thing which made a starship fly was what bound the crew to the captain and not the warp engines, not the dilithium crystals, not the ship’s computer. Some part of the value he had found in Spock’s friendship had always been the surprising comfort of being so transparent to another being. Kirk had discovered that when you have to ensure a command distance from four hundred and thirty people, it can be oddly relaxing to be known by just one of them rather better than you know yourself. And for all Spock’s creed of non-emotion, he had known his First Officer shrug off his Vulcan cloak at warp 10 in two circumstances – when Kirk’s own safety was threatened, and when loyalty demanded it. On the Melkotian planet, when they had thought Chekhov dead, McCoy and Scott had worked off the immediate pain by taking pot shots at Spock’s unemotional response. Kirk had come close to intervening, despite knowing that Spock understood the dynamic perfectly, was allowing them the space to hurt in their own way, but it was at the point that Scotty reminded Spock of the Vulcan’s own personal loyalty to Chekhov, whose mentor and head of section the ship’s First Officer had been for three years, that Spock had broken with his own tradition and for once taken refuge in his mother’s blood. They forget that I am half human.
“Truth is, I got rather too accustomed to it,” he said, “perhaps I even got too comfortable,” and then thought that he would say it, he would say the word now, instead of dancing around it for the rest of the mission or the rest of his life – he would say it just to see the look on Spock’s face, to see his expression. “It was why I never understood – why I found it hard – when you left for Gol.”
There was a noise behind them and Spock turned, rising. Eyes down, Kirk thought, his moment lost, and he kept them there as the transaction was undertaken.
He wondered whether she was playing a game, whether she really expected Spock to return. She was offering a time, together with a straight look of invitation, and Kirk smiled to himself, remembering a string of other women, not just the other Romulan commander, but Leila Kalomi, Droxine of Ardana, Zarabeth, whom he had never met. T’Pring, he thought, and shied away again from the memory. Another conversation yet to come. Soon, he told himself, following his First out of the room.
At the last minute, Spock turned back to the Romulan. Kirk fought to keep eyes down, expression blank. They had sixty seconds left till beam up. What was Spock doing?
“I am curious, Commander. In the last system, we encountered an automated signal and beamed down to an uninhabited planet, where we discovered the source of the beacon attached to a memorial. Are you able to provide further information?”
She was already turning back to her work, and her reply was brief, factual and dismissive, brooking no further conversation.
“The memorial was established many years ago in tribute to the fallen in a battle. There was no beacon, last time I visited.”
“Are you able to specify the battle?”
“The battle?” She gave him a slightly mocking look over her shoulder. “You of all people should know about the battle, Commander. It is your heritage. We can discuss it later.”
Eyes down, Kirk nevertheless could not supress a slight frown as he followed Spock out of the doorway to a discreet distance down the corridor, where the dazzle took them. As they materialised on the shuttle, he said,
“What was all that about? Do you think she knew who you were?”
“I do not believe in that event she would have allowed us to leave,” Spock said, his own expression tuned inwardly as though he were thinking rapidly, and then the opportunity for conversation was lost as McCoy caught sight of Kirk’s face and his captain, casting a meaningful look at the Vulcan, submitted to the inevitable ministrations.
“So, what do we have, gentlemen?” he asked, looking from one to other of his senior officers. This had always worked before, this dynamic. Find a wholly intractable problem, put it in the space between Vulcan and Georgia, and the opposing forces of cool logic and southern humanity would never fail to push and pull until the solution was found, like a ball passed over the entirety of a pitch by opposing teams till it eventually finds the goal.
Of course, that was before Mount Seleya and before the unlikely journey McCoy had taken from the engineering room of the Enterprise to Vulcan via Genesis, carrying with him his opponent’s personal future against higher stakes than they had faced in any of the battles they had fought under Kirk’s command, either against each other or a common foe. Would it still hold true, the dynamic which had been beyond value to Kirk in the five year mission? Well, he had to find out sometime. No time like the present.
“Let’s put together a list, shall we? A memorial to a Romulan warrior who just so happens to have the same name as the local contact of the intelligence officer we are trying to find, with a beacon set up far more recently than the monument. A Romulan chief engineer who seems to think Spock should know all about the deceased in question. And the mysterious evaporation of the greater part of our dilithium crystal supply.”
Add to that, a Vulcan running on didactic memory and more than a few revelations which Kirk had still to find time to unwrap on his own, to see the past (and possibly the future) from a slightly different perspective; perhaps, above all, the nature of a link, gossamer yet enduring across space and time, which had once saved his life on a dying starship in the Tholian sector.
Of course, there was no need for the entirety of the list to be read out loud.
“As to the dilithium crystals, Captain,” Spock said, “I believe this may have resulted from a miscalculation as a result of the unanticipated change to the number of crew members and the multiplier effect on the necessary power amplification, due to the constant operation of the cloaking device and other factors.”
“Meaning,” Kirk said, “that the dilithium supply was not predicated on having McCoy along with us and that multiplying the crew by fifty percent has an exponential effect on power drain given the way the shuttle operates under constant shielding.”
“If that’s the problem,” McCoy said, swiftly, “I am more than happy to oblige. Just drop me off at the nearest Starbase and you can pick me up on the way home in time for supper.”
“Whilst the suggestion has some obvious merit, doctor, you may have observed a distinct lack of Starbase facilities open to Federation personnel beyond the Neutral Zone. Moreover, we will not be returning to Starfleet before the evening meal.”
“Just as well, you’d never manage without me and I don’t count what that replicator produces as any sort of meal at any time of the day. As to your other questions, Jim – well, if the beacon is a late addition to the mausoleum you found yesterday, maybe the body is, too. Maybe it’s the same Marillus.”
“Doctor, as I have already informed you, there is no body buried in the edifice in question. It is a memorial, not a tomb and it is far too old to have been established in relation to the individual Romulan we seek, even if we were to discover that he is deceased.”
“Oh? So you got any better ideas, Mr Spock?”
“My recommendation,” Spock said, steepling his fingers, “is that it would be illogical to permit the coincidence of the name to provide too great a distraction. There is no reason to suppose it is an uncommon name among the Romulan people.”
“Some coincidence,” muttered McCoy, sotto voce.
“Doctor, you will be aware that my hearing is sufficiently acute regardless of how quietly you enunciate. Do you wish to elucidate?”
“Well, yes, I am happy to elucidate, Mr Spock,” the doctor snapped, drawl forgotten. “You may have had your brain taken apart and put back together again, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an improvement and it doesn’t necessarily mean you can remember which way round you’re thinking. You and Jim are here on what a sane person might term a wild goose chase to find a Romulan called Marillus. You come across a mysteriously arranged beacon which signposts you to a memorial to a dead Romulan of the same name and then you bump into some Romulan station commander who thinks you ought to have figured out who the guy is. Doesn’t take an A-7 computer expert classification to figure it out, Commander. So before you dismiss everything I say as an illogical coincidence, why don’t you stop treating the mission as though it’s something out of Little Red Riding Hood and go back to Mount Seleya to make sure they’ve put you back in the right order?”
Kirk put his hands up and swallowed back a smile.
“Thank you, gentlemen, that was illuminating, as ever. Bones, you’re off duty. I’ll wake you up in eight hours.”
McCoy had gone, rather more quietly than usual, as if in acknowledgement that his parting shot had been closer to the mark than might have been warranted. Spock had seated himself rather pointedly at the shuttle console and Kirk had watched him thoughtfully, then logged on to the shuttle computer and started to decode reports from HQ.
After a silent forty five minutes, he stretched, reached behind to the replicator for a coffee, and asked idly,
“What are you working on, Commander?”
“I am attempting to verify the doctor’s hypothesis as to the comparative popularity of the Romulan name Marillus,” was the prompt reply.
“It occurs with considerable frequency in all the media I have accessed,” Spock said.
“So it’s a coincidence?”
Kirk lifted an eyebrow.
“Don’t tell me you’re persuaded by McCoy.”
“I am not persuaded by the good doctor for the simple reason that he has provided no arguments or rationale against the likelihood of it being a coincidence. That does not necessarily mean it is. All possible scenarios should be considered.”
Kirk thought that through, then asked,
“How much do you know about Romulan society, Spock? Is it just facile for us to assume that because of the common Vulcan-Romulan ancestry, you somehow know more about it than the rest of us?”
“Not facile, Captain, but inaccurate. My knowledge of Romulan customs derives from study, largely undertaken for the purpose of missions served under your command. As you know, Starfleet information on the subject is limited, though it has increased not insignificantly even since the five year mission.”
“So, in fact, so far as we are all aware, the two cultures could be entirely similar. We are guessing as to how far they have diverged over the centuries.”
“Millennia, Captain, not centuries,” his First said, “and there is more than guesswork involved in our understanding of that divergence. You are forgetting, perhaps, how much evidence we have seen, both you and I personally and Starfleet as an organisation, of the military and aggressive nature of Romulan society. That is not the Vulcan way.” His words hung in the air with the smallest note of smug reproof, and from absolutely nowhere, Kirk thought, Now. I am going to ask him about it now.
“Spock,” he said, feeling exactly the same as he had, aged seventeen, taking out his father’s aircar for the first time after he had got his licence – a mixture of anticipation, fear, dread and utter focus, “Spock, then can I ask – is it that common ancestry which results in the violence of pon farr?”
Syllables, unspoken between them for thirteen years, hung almost visibly in the shuttle cabin, like wind chimes, still and silent but with the capacity for red alert at the slightest movement. Spock was frozen, his fingers like carvings on the arms of his seat, and then he turned towards Kirk, his face unreadable, and offered seven toneless syllables.
“Unknown, sir, but probable.”
Kirk swallowed. There was no part of this admittedly brief and less than elaborate speech which was not festooned with Keep out notices in huge, block capitals, complete with threats of prosecution for trespassers. He heard, as if across the years, I haven’t heard a word you’ve said, saw (as much as felt) re-taken every single hard-won inch of recently gained ground between them and stubbornly kept going. He had kept going in the aircar, as well, all those years ago, even after the initial shock of witnessing a serious accident between two other aircars just after he had left his parents’ home.
He was not entirely sure why he wanted to do this, just that he did. He had wanted to do it for thirteen years and never had the courage, always assumed he had more to lose than to gain, never thought he would manage to clean the wound. All things come to those that wait, he thought grimly. He wasn’t going to crash the aircar, though. He would walk away from this whole and so would the Vulcan.
“Did you know?” It was not quite what he had wanted to say, but he had not planned this, despite having had thirteen years to do so. He had to say something, anything, to get where he wanted to go. He hadn’t known where he was going in the aircar, either, just that it was time to show himself that he could.
Spock appeared to have decided on the strategy of computer simulation – not of simulation by computer but simulation of a computer. Not the models which served the Enterprise, Starfleet HQ and even the Polaris, but the old-fashioned variety which supported the earliest space craft and answered in monotones and monosyllables and declined to expand on the most basic requests for information.
“I informed you at the time that the condition affects Vulcans at a profound level. I had not, of course, appreciated the risk to you.”
“Didn’t they tell you, though? I remember you said that you hadn’t been certain that you – well, that it would happen to you, but surely your parents – your teachers – someone must have prepared you for it?”
He supposed the fact that Spock neither threw him out of the nearest viewing hole nor set the shuttle to self-destruct was some sort of testament to the ground they had covered since leaving Earth, to the bond to which Spock himself had confessed four days earlier.
“Captain, the topic is not discussed.”
Well, that figured. Advanced gravitational physics for four year olds instead of basic sex education for older siblings. No Surak’s Philosophy of Sex. He caught a brief glimpse into a profound disquiet deep in his First’s eyes; thought inconsequentially of tugging limpets off rocks with Sam on holiday on Cape Cod, aged eight; set his shoulders and went on.
“Isn’t that, well, illogical? Your people are renowned all over the galaxy for their thirst for knowledge. They venerate learning. Every eight year old child on Earth has worked out the birds and bees by asking or reading or listening. It’s the most basic question, the most basic answer.”
“It would be futile to adopt any such methodology. There are no records and it is not a subject permitted for discussion.”
Kirk’s mind boggled, briefly, at a culture which could and did lead the galaxy in terms of diplomacy, dignity, learning and technological advance, and yet failed to teach itself even about storks and gooseberry bushes. He felt the ghosting of accusation, because if the entirety of planet Vulcan had decided this knowledge was not for Spock, why was he asking him about the worst day of their lives on this invisible shuttle deep in Romulan space on a wild goose mission for three? I have the right, he thought stubbornly, and then thought that actually it had only been the second worst day of his life, and that this was why the time for the conversation had finally come.
“But T’Pring must have known. She’d worked it all out in advance.”
The dark eyes grew darker. Kirk had not realised that was possible.
“She was clearly motivated to do so.”
Kirk looked at his First, thoughtfully. Spock had just admitted to having spent his adult years in deliberate denial. What did it take for a person as intelligent and intuitive as Spock to do that? How could you set off on a five year mission, knowing it might be suicide, and just lock that knowledge up somewhere and throw away the key? How could you save the galaxy, but not be able to save yourself? How could you learn to find yourself in a human crew, in an unexpected bond with a human captain, find out how illogically satisfying was the combination of chess and guava juice and the pretence that you did not understand human idiom - when all the time there was a ticking time bomb that at some point, any point, sometime soon, could blow the whole thing up?
Had it hurt that much? Had it frightened him that much?
How could you pretend not to understand human idiom and not try to understand your own body?
He remembered his own blistering anger, after they had left Vulcan, when he had first realised what Spock had been living with. An old anger with Vulcan, with Sarek, with the whole damn shooting match, but a new anger with Spock himself. He’d found himself studying Spock across the bridge, across a chess board, at features once more assembled in a familiar pattern (no longer distorted into someone quite different, above the killing sands of the pon farr arena) and had seen images in his mind’s eye of the growing discoveries of the past couple of years. Spock’s steadfast support at Delta Vega and the promotion he had given him after Gary’s death, almost as an answer to that support. More chess games. A hundred landings on a hundred planets with a Vulcan presence behind his shoulder. A thousand glances traded across the bridge, broad grin exchanged for raised eyebrow.
And all that time, the buried knowledge in Spock’s mind that it might not be forever.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. That knowledge had clouded the last year of the mission more often than Kirk was prepared to admit (though no less frequently, he suspected, than the Vulcan had been aware). But there’s forever and forever. Forever meaning the end of your career on the bridge (an issue over which you might not have as much control as you might like) is not the same as forever meaning you were walking down a road which, however fast or slow the pace, would inevitably at some point take you to the killing sands, or to a lonely, frenzied, terrifying, painful off-world death.
And the Vulcan had never breathed a word.
He had said It is a thing no out-worlder may know. But he had also said to T’Pau, They are not out-worlders. They are my friends. And when you had stood with someone to witness sudden death outside a twentieth century Earth mission; when you had gone with them to Talos IV on one of the strangest journeys of your life; when you had reached out of pain and bewilderment to fight them in orbit round Psi 2000 and when you had bared more than your soul to them at Alpha 177 – then you didn’t frankly see what out-worlders had to do with anything very much. And then you wondered, really, what all that had meant to the other person if they had known all along that it wasn’t forever.
You knew that the other person might find challenging, of course, the prospect of deeply personal revelation. But you thought, all the same, that they could have tried. How hard would it have been? Captain, it might be appropriate to put you on notice that a need might arise sooner than you believe to appoint a new First Officer. Too blunt, too impersonal, perhaps, even for Spock. Captain, you might find it illuminating to consider the Vulcan methodology of procreation. No, not Spock. Checkmate. Captain, on the subject of mates – No, no, no. Jim, I thank you for your trust and friendship. There is something I would like you to know, in case I am not always here with you. No.
A part of him had also struggled with the realisation that, his life with Kirk on the Enterprise aside, Spock hadn’t simply placed a higher value on his own continued existence. It was not as though it presented so great a practical challenge to have ensured a return to Vulcan at the apposite time. Spock hadn’t even come to him when the madness first reached for him – he had thrown plomeek soup at Christine Chapel and evidenced a sufficient degree of strain to worry McCoy, but he hadn’t reached out for Kirk and he hadn’t reached out for the only sort of help which might have saved him. Had he really been so little invested in life?
And what did that mean, in terms of the Vulcan’s emotional geography – the legacy of his childhood, his extraordinary gifts and professional success, his friendship with Kirk? That gossamer bond?
And all the time, T’Pring. Her name, her existence, never mentioned to Kirk, who had thought he knew everything about Spock. T’Pring, waiting in the arena with rejection and the brutality of a calculated challenge. Had the Vulcan rebelled, had he wanted the freedom of choice? But he had turned away from a dozen women Kirk had seen throw themselves at him. Was this the reason? What did that mean for the Vulcan’s future? And how had he managed seven years later?
He said, gently, now, into the wall of silence around his First Officer,
“I know you don’t want to talk about it, Spock. I’m sorry. We never spoke, afterwards. I thought – well, I just thought there were things to say.”
There was a pause, during which Kirk thought that he had finally reached the limits of what didactic memory would allow, and then, just as he was thinking of logging back on to the reports from HQ, the black head turned and the Vulcan said, very slowly,
“I had not imagined it to be a memory you would have ever had any interest in revisiting.”
Kirk mentally consigned the reports to the next shift, and said honestly,
“It’s been hard to forget. Of course I remember, just as I am sure you do. If we’re going to remember it anyway, isn’t it better to talk about it?”
“If you deem it of value,” Spock said, and felt an echo. Amanda had wanted to talk about his feelings, said they would surface and he had said As you wish, since you deem them of value. But I cannot wait here to find them. And he had meant that he had to leave Vulcan, to go to Earth with Kirk, and here he was now with the person who had taken on Amanda’s task and who wanted to talk to him about pon farr and T’Pring and the memory of the weight in his arms of Kirk’s lifeless body.
Spock had lifted Kirk a hundred times before that day. He had retrieved him, injured, and taken him to safety; had thrown him in combat; had even carried him when Kirk had feigned unconscious, that time they had been escaping from Orion slave traders on Deneb V. He had never realised before how different is the weight of exactly the same body once the person has left it – that it is both lighter, because what truly matters has gone, and heavier, with a dragging weight Spock had felt for certain at the time would never leave his arms. He had long schooled himself not to conjure the memory of Kirk’s face before him, still and empty, but he had woken for many years with the sensation of remembered weight in his arms.
For the first time, he wondered whether there might lie an advantage in didactic memory.
Was this what Kirk was trying to heal?
He made an effort, glanced down at his hands and then up into Kirk’s face to say,
“I had always assumed you had found the memory of my altered behaviour extremely distasteful.”
Kirk frowned quickly, and leaned forward with emphasis.
“Spock – if that’s what has lingered… No. Not so. It wasn’t you. I knew that at the time.”
“Captain,” he said, slowly and with the sensation of very slowly peeling skin back from poorly healed wounds, “Captain, that is not so. That is who I am. I appreciate that it is alien to you. Alien, dangerous and distasteful.”
Kirk sat back and studied the face in front of him. He had wanted very much to ask Spock about his acceptance, about his decision to resign himself without a struggle to whatever genetics had dictated, but faced with Spock’s bleak utterance, he swiftly changed tack.
“Why,” he asked, “why is that any different from Alpha 177?”
Spock’s eyes swung back to him immediately.
“I have never considered –“
“Nor have I.”
Spock let a beat pass, allowed the comfort of comparison and then said,
“You did not threaten me, on Alpha 177. It is not a form of behaviour you have ever submitted to, even under duress. You were divided, on Alpha 177, by the unforeseen impact of mineral compounds. On Vulcan, I was in fact fulfilling my own biological destiny, albeit in a transitory sense. That is who I am.”
Kirk made a sharp gesture, as if to dismiss the words.
“I fulfil my own biological destiny whenever I get the chance,” he said drily, “it doesn’t mean it’s behaviour I choose to manifest on the bridge. Spock – you’re forgetting Gamma Hydra Four. There were plenty of occasions my behaviour to you was less than friendly. Let it go.”
He thought he had taken Spock with him, thought the point won, but Spock looked up directly, then, and said
“Is it the case that it has had no bearing on your views of me whatsoever?” His eyes met Kirk’s full on, no room for evasion.
Kirk thought back. He was in the arena. Hot, thirsty, stressed. Aware of the small gathering to one side, the girl’s implacability, T’Pau’s immoveable grandeur. McCoy’s anxious eyes. All that dwarfed by an awareness of Spock, crouching opposite him; every inch alert, hostile; eyes not Spock’s eyes but someone else’s entirely.
There had been a point when he had thought he had the choice between his own life and Spock’s – had really believed, in a split second knowledge, that he would gladly sacrifice his own – and then had understood his folly, had realised how little danger Spock had faced and, stripped of choice or sacrifice, had simply found himself fighting for his life against the one person he would always have counted upon to save it.
Had there been a moment when he had looked into the maddened face, his friend far, far beyond reach, and wondered about the unlikely death he was facing, the end of the road from Iowa? Wondered how he had ended up in a deadly bond with a person whose home was a burning heat and unforgiving rock a thousand thousand miles from MidWest America?
The truth was that he had been too busy trying to live. He had wanted to save Spock, but he hadn’t been able to, and in the heat of the arena, the instinct for life had taken over and he had reached for it, until McCoy’s paralytic cocktail had taken over and the sky had clouded to nothing, his last sight narrowed to Spock’s strange, altered face.
He could even remember the next time, a week later, that he and Spock had been caught up in a fight. It had simply never occurred to him not to trust, not to know with all that he was that the Vulcan would be there at his shoulder, without an ahn woon in his hands.
And he looked back now at the Vulcan, considered a whole range of expressions of reassurance, said simply “It is the case” and saw something bleed out of Spock’s face, wasn’t sure if it was tension or just a didactic memory from a long time ago.
It turned out there were good things about didactic memory, after all.
And that meant he could ask the easy question – McCoy’s question.
“And your quite logical relief that Starfleet had not lost a highly proficient captain?”
Spock met his eyes. Kirk was back in sickbay and he remembered the unaccustomed feeling of Spock’s hands on his arms, Spock’s face once more translated into entirely unfamiliar lines but this time the gift of a broad smile. I should remember that more often, he thought. If one face was Spock’s biological destiny, so was the other. Just as Alpha 177 had revealed his own two unlikely complementary halves, the same was true for Spock of the day in the arena. If he managed to be who he was only by being the sum of two parts, wasn’t that as true for the Vulcan? And was that, after all, the answer to the question? Perhaps there was a Spock whose childhood trauma had made him settle for whatever fate his blood would bring. But there was also a Spock who could value with a human smile a second chance at life with Kirk.
He waited. Spock was silent, his thoughts, had he known it, not far from his captain’s. He remembered the simple knowledge that Kirk’s death had meant the end of his own life as he knew it. I shall do neither. I have killed my captain, and my friend. He remembered the feel of holding Kirk in sickbay and knew it to be the counterbalance to the dead weight of his body in the arena. It came to him then that the essence of memory might not be whether it was didactic or experiential, but whether or not you chose it. It you were a member of the most advanced civilisation in the galaxy and if you had evolved to possess strong and enduring mental powers, there was no real reason why you should not, instead of waking to the memory of the weight of a lifeless body, remember instead, occasionally, what it felt like to catch hold of someone in love and relief.
He looked across at Kirk and said in the tone of a quotation,
“I think you will remember, Captain, the doctor’s own opinion that my reaction was quite logical.”
In a pig’s eye, Kirk thought, inevitably, knowing it would echo unspoken in the Vulcan’s mind. He gave his own answering grin, suffused with sudden affection for both officers, and stood up to stretch and then to check the dilithium levels at the rear of the cabin. As he turned, though, he hesitated, and then said, without realising he was going to,
“You still should have told me.” His answer was the silence he had expected, and he took the requisite readings, untroubled. The rest of the shift passed in companionable silence, but a few minutes before Kirk was due to go off-duty, when both officers could hear the muffled sounds of McCoy stirring in the cabin, Spock said,
“There is a Vulcan saying among the earliest teachings of Surak.”
Kirk considered this, and then offered,
“Don’t tell humans anything?”
“There is no such saying,” Spock said, straight-faced.
“Don’t tell anyone anything?”
“I have never encountered that expression either.”
“Certain death is better than talking about reproduction?”
This was clearly not considered worthy of a reply. Kirk smiled.
“So tell me.”
“The journey towards confession lies uphill and the right question from the right person is a signpost to the top.”
Kirk was aware of a rush of feeling. He remembered the signpost he had offered, terrified that he was going to lose the Vulcan; reaching for whatever key he could find which might possibly turn the lock; frightened of saying too much or too little. You’ve been called the best First Officer in the Fleet. If I have to lose that First Officer, I want to know why. It was a good thing, perhaps, that Spock was as adept at translating from Standard as he himself was at translating from Vulcan.
He managed only,
“Thank you, Commander,” before McCoy came into the room, and asked “Did I miss anything?” and Kirk said “Nothing important, Bones”, but he met the Vulcan’s eyes and knew that in fact this was not really true for either of them.
“How long, now, till Romulus?” McCoy asked, idly. There was an hour left till the end of his shift. Spock had woken an hour early and come to sit with them. Kirk was unsure what this meant – the two obvious options were, in the alternative, Vulcans need less sleep than humans and this seems a good way to make the point or else a strategy for the three of them to have some time together. A third alternative, he supposed, was a combination of the first two. There would be a reason, though. There always was, with Spock. No one else would start a shift 64.85 minutes early just for the hell of it or, indeed, inform their companions that they were exactly 64.85 minutes early.
“At current speed and with no further diversions, we will reach orbit in nineteen point four five days,” Spock said.
“Unless we run out of gas on the way.”
A Vulcan eyebrow lifted.
“I stipulated, doctor, that my calculation was predicated on no further diversions,” Spock said. “Moreover, there is no need for concern on that account. I have adjusted the dilithium settings to take account of the ship’s complement of personnel.”
“Better late than never,” came the inevitable Georgian grumble. “What happened, Jim? Did they run out of First Officers who could count?”
Kirk smiled and said nothing. Unexpectedly, it was Spock who said, from behind him,
“On Stardate 3289.8, doctor, you advised the Captain, under no pressure or influence from any other person, that I was the best First Officer in the Fleet.”
Kirk turned and stared. McCoy, apparently oblivious to the moment, said merely,
“Long time ago, Spock. A person can get out of practice, you know.”
Kirk said, quietly,
“3289.8, Spock? Remind me.”
“We were in orbit around Deneva, sir.”
Yes, of course. Deneva. Sam. Aurelan. McCoy’s solution to the crisis, the experimental chamber to use light to kill the parasitic inhabitants of Deneva’s population of a million. Spock’s loss of sight – he had called it “an equitable trade”, sight for pain, and McCoy’s comment on the bridge, after the blindness had passed. Please don’t tell Spock I said he was the best First Officer in the Fleet. Kirk smiled slightly. It was a good memory, even against the appalling loss of Sam, which still had the power to hurt after all these years. It was a good memory, but it could so easily have been nothing of the kind. He wondered, suddenly, how it was for McCoy and why Spock had brought it up. Whether this had anything to do with 64.85 minutes.
As if catching the thought, McCoy stirred in his seat.
“Like I said. A long time ago. Why are you bringing up that old business, Spock?”
“One way of describing it, Bones. It was a good bit of teamwork, the way I remember it.”
“I blinded your First Officer, Jim, and you know it. Only luck means he’s serving with you today.” It came out harshly, from a place which had clearly being harbouring it a long time. Kirk spared a thought for the Vulcan behind him. He himself had given the matter no further consideration since the moment Spock had walked on to the bridge, since the moment he had said, in uncomprehending, amazed relief, Spock – you can see, still the only instance he could ever remember of Spock allowing him to state (so as to speak) the blindingly obvious without ironic commentary. He had embarked on the obligatory tease – Regaining eyesight would be an emotional experience for most. You, I presume, felt nothing – and thereafter Deneva had only meant Sam, for him, the memory entirely divested of that terrible interlude when he had fought to concentrate on the mission and not allowed himself the full realisation that his partnership with Spock would never be the same again. He knew, though, that some of the sting of Sam’s loss had been neutralised by the gift of Spock’s return to the bridge. You can only have so many brothers. It had turned out that you were better off losing one when you thought you had lost two than when you had only contemplated a single loss in the first place. His grief for both Sam and Aurelan had been profound. The incident had taught him something, however, of the meaning of family.
Spock, though, had clearly retained entirely different impressions of what had taken place. Because McCoy appeared to have carried the hurt around a long, long time, and Spock had not only perceived that, but was prepared to take steps to address it. How? Kirk wondered. And more importantly, why and why now?
Spock was speaking.
“The Captain’s description of teamwork is accurate, doctor. He and I were both complicit in the decision to administer the particular formula involving the spectrum of light.”
“Don’t soft-soap me, Commander,” McCoy snapped. His voice held real anger, which was a sure sign that Spock had disturbed unhealed wounds. “You’re a scientist and he’s a soldier. You’re supposed to be able to calculate fuel supplies – no one in their right mind would let you anywhere near the medical sciences. You don’t even know how to talk to real people. Me - I’m supposed to be a doctor. I’ve never killed a patient yet. Maybe there were some I failed to save, and I remember every damn one of them. But I never inflicted unnecessary damage. I’ve not blinded or maimed. Except that once.”
Kirk said, emphatically,
“Bones. Look at him. He’s perfectly all right. Has been for years.”
Another Georgian snort.
“He’s very far from perfectly all right, Jim, and if you can’t see it, then you need a check-up yourself. But that’s got nothing to do with his sight. Yes, he can see. But that has nothing to do with me.”
“Doctor, the only alternative would have been to await the results of the previous experiment and it was the Captain and I who did not permit the loss of time. Consider that, had we done so, approximately a further fifteen point three thousand individuals would have died in the interval.”
“You made that up, Spock. I said - don’t flannel me. I’m off, anyway. My shift is over.”
“A few more minutes, Bones,” Kirk said, and McCoy stayed in his seat. Whether or not Spock made up figures was an interesting question. Kirk had long been perfectly aware that it was one of Spock’s favourite past times. In the tunnels underneath Janus Six, mustering arguments to resist an order to leave the danger zone and assist Scotty with the reactor, Spock had quoted the odds against the two of them being killed as 2,228.7 to 1. On Organia, caught between Kor and Ayelborne, Spock had calculated the odds of escape as 7,824.7 to 1, with the caveat that this was a close approximation only. Kirk was himself (by way of close approximation only) 99.8% sure that both numbers were sheer fabrication. However, he was even more certain that Spock was not fabricating the estimate of the number of lives saved on Deneva, simply because there was both a moral and scientific integrity in Spock which would only embellish when he knew he would not be believed. He would not have done so merely in order to comfort the doctor. Which meant that Spock had calculated the figure at the time and had been carrying it around a long time to try to make his point. A very long time.
Spock said, in level tones,
“There were at the time over a million inhabitants of Deneva, doctor. Many had already perished. The rate of death was easily calculated by a simple application of calculus, taking into account the rate at which the creatures took hold, the spread of infection and the approximate time within which an average person succumbed to the madness. It is a straightforward matter to divide the time it took to learn the results of the first light experiment by the number of deaths occurring per second. The figure I offered was conservative and the number of deaths might well have exceeded it. Against this, the benefit to me of the temporary blindness which I endured was considerable, since it confirmed the otherwise unknown existence of a layer of optical protection which has on occasion since that time been of use to me and which I would otherwise possibly have struggled to establish. There is no need for any illogical self-recrimination on your part. Not only was the decision taken in large part by the Captain and by me, it was of considerable benefit to a large number of individuals.”
Kirk was silent. He was remembering, with some small discomfort, his own reaction to the events in question. He should have exonerated McCoy completely, for all the reasons given by Spock, but he hadn’t. He had no excuse – had known at the time precisely how his friend was feeling – but had given into the overwhelming anguish at Spock’s loss of sight, coming so hard on the heels of the grief for Sam which he had not even started to allow himself properly to feel. The easiest thing had somehow been to blame McCoy for everything, and he had known at the time it was beyond unfair. He had said nothing beyond a furious, unforgiving “Bones –“ but should have known this would have echoed in the doctor’s head a long time. Until Spock had picked up the damage and put all the pieces together.
The truth was that everyone had a right to make mistakes. He himself had made enough, been lucky enough not to have been blamed as much as he frankly deserved, not to have anyone say an unforgiving “Captain –“ even when his actions had caused not loss of sight but loss of life. Spock himself, under far greater provocation, had never said a word to him in that tone of voice, even translated into Vulcan.
Now, he cleared his throat, said gently,
“Spock’s entirely right, Bones. Time to let it go. Sorry I ever let you think otherwise.”
McCoy cast him a started look and he leant forward to offer a gentle push.
“End of shift, doctor. See you in eight hours.”
The CMO of the Enterprise got to his feet, looked from one to the other of his companions, opened his mouth to say something and then closed it, with the air of someone who finds that a difficult conundrum has been resolved while he was having a five minute break and who isn’t quite sure what to do next. He shrugged, turned to leave and behind his departing back, Kirk said softly,
“The things we let lie… That was well played, Commander. Thank you.”
There was a brief silence, and then the Vulcan looked up directly into Kirk’s eyes and said,
“May I make an observation, sir?”
About temporary blindness? About Kirk’s behaviour on Deneva? Kirk had a feeling it was neither of these, had a feeling of not being in control of the conversation, but he had blindsided Spock too often over the past few weeks not to allow the Vulcan a turn, so he nodded silently and waited.
“It appeared to trouble you that I had not made you aware of certain personal aspects of my situation at an earlier date than in fact I did during the course of the five year mission.”
You criticised me for not telling you about pon farr before it was too late. Almost too late.
“Yes,” he said. He had said to Spock, You should have told me, and that was still true, signposts or no signposts.
“Had you considered, Captain, that in general I am arguably considerably more open about my life than you are?”
Kirk’s eyebrows shot up. It had not, in fact, occurred to him, for the simple reason that it was an utter calumny, a parody of the truth. It had not occurred to him because he was a human being who enjoyed sharing a normal level of communication, who would happily discuss his love life with McCoy over a glass of Romulan ale (or even with Scotty over a glass of whisky) and the person opposite him was a member of a species who put privacy up there above the Ten Commandments and preferred violent death to telling his closest friends he was getting married.
But this was Spock, so –
“Would you care to elucidate?” he asked politely, in the same tone of voice in which he might ask a junior officer to explain his reasons for being late in starting a shift.
“You might constructively consider a number of facets of my life on the Enterprise during the five year mission,” Spock said. Kirk nodded, neutrally. The Vulcan continued:
“My parents, as you know, come from different planets, my father is Vulcan and my mother human. I lived at home with my parents until deciding to enrol in Starfleet Academy instead of the Vulcan Science Academy. As you are aware, there were less than congenial aspects to my childhood, including some difficulties with peer relationships arising from the unusual nature of my background. You, along with the officers and many of the crew of the Enterprise have met my parents on more than one occasion. The nature of the philosophy of my home planet and the contrast with that of Earth was not only well known to the crew but in fact became the subject not only of humour and occasional insult but, in addition, on occasion, of open and interested debate. Aspects of my physiology were a common topic of discussion and, on occasion, played a part in ship’s missions, and I refer here to the Vulcan healing trance and the Vulcan mind meld (the latter of which, at the very least, is held to be a matter of particular privacy on my home planet). Shall I continue?”
Kirk looked back at him, very still. He had a small feeling about what was coming and suspected he wouldn’t like it. He also suspected he had no choice. After a brief pause, Spock said,
“Sir, I have never met either of your parents. I do not know anything of their racial background. I know very little of your childhood, whether positive or not. No person on the Enterprise would ever have been permitted openly to discuss your emotional propensities, nor would this have been proper. Your thoughts are your own and no one would ever suggest otherwise. When on occasion you have been injured, you have ensured the maximum privacy around the nature and extent of those injuries and the healing time necessary. Neither I nor any of your crew were informed of your brother’s details or whereabouts before he died, and Dr McCoy had to ask you to identify his body because we were unfamiliar with his appearance. Lastly, and importantly, you had undergone some significant experiences in your earlier career and life which had no little impact on certain passages in the five year mission, and yet you failed to make them known until events dictated disclosure.”
Kirk said, dry-mouthed,
“All right, Spock. Thank you. I get what you’re saying. You’re presumably not suggesting, however, that every starship captain sits down with his First on day one of the mission and gives a complete autobiography to ensure that his second-in-command is fully briefed against all contingencies?”
“In fact,” Spock said, “a variation on that theme is regarded as good practice.”
He had said, “Lieutenant-Commander Spock. It’s an honour. Your reputation precedes you.” He had managed not to say I’m not quite sure how this is going to work, nor I want you to know I don’t agree with everything Gary Mitchell thinks and certainly not Gary has a hundred credits riding on you leaving within the first month of my command. There had been no autobiography. Not then, and not later, after Mitchell and Liz Dehner had died on Delta Vega and he had said “There’s some hope for you after all, Mr Spock” and had promoted him to First Officer and had sat up very late that night playing the longest chess game of his life. He been continuously surprised to find Spock still there, moving black pawns and bishops, eyes fixed quietly on Kirk’s face, visible just behind the silver eyes which hovered over everything for days after Delta Vega. Black bishops, silver eyes, but no autobiography.
He looked back at Spock, now, and said, with an effort, whilst knowing what the answer would be,
“And what should I have told you, Commander?”
Spock said, into the quiet space in the cabin between them,
“Sir, you are aware that to comply with Starfleet procedures I should have been fully briefed, certainly with regard to your mission on the USS Farragut.”
Kirk met his eyes, opaquely.
“It’s all in the log, Spock. You found it soon enough when you needed it.”
Didactic memory, it appeared, was quite sufficient to demonstrate that Spock was still a galactic medal winner at the art of the eloquent silence.
Spock found himself wondering at what stage You found it soon enough when you needed it had mutated into I haven’t heard a word you’ve said. He speculated as to whether you could reasonably conclude that It’s all in the log meant, to all intents and purposes, There are some things which transcend even the discipline of the service. He considered for the first time what Kirk’s reaction had been to Ask me no further questions. I will not answer. He wondered whether it had felt like a door closing in his face.
You didn’t need to be an expert in inter-species relationships – or, in fact, any relationships – to learn, after a period of time, about how to be bilingual. About how you could wear a conversational groove between two people. About the fact that I’m still waiting for you to move your bishop, Commander, meant: I’d like some time tonight, you and me and our chess game, and there may be things I need to say to you or it may be that I just need to watch you move your bishop, but either way I hope you have the time. Or about the fact that you could say, Captain, Vulcans do not guess, or Vulcans do not joke, or Vulcans do not consume chocolate ice cream, and know with complete certainty that, illogical though it might be, it was understood that you had said, Captain, are you all right? Or perhaps, just simply, Yes. Yes to the game of chess and the quiet hours. And thank you.
And in that context, it didn’t always matter who was open and who wasn’t. Because you might be open about some things and not others, and that these things might be understood and might be part of the endless eddies to and fro, back and forth. But it begged a question, really. Because if you were able to translate effortlessly from Standard to Vulcan and back, did it make a difference if someone simply declined to provide you with significant information and then said, You found it soon enough when you needed it? In fact, didactic memory provided Spock with exactly what Kirk had said on stardate 3619.2, the day that Rizzo had died - It may provide some answers to a tape record which I think you'll find Doctor McCoy is looking at this very moment.
Had Kirk’s silence on the subject of the Farragut constituted a risk, or just a closed door?
“Sir, you are an experienced and highly renowned Starfleet officer whose views on command are widely regarded. Foremost among the tactics you expound is the value of teamwork. You hold strong and well known opinions on the value of combining the strengths and experience of different crew members to arrive at a robust solution. Is it not illogical that you should withhold key information until considerably after the point at which senior crew members might already be deploying tactics to assist and might already be in a position to start to make a contribution to your own strategies?”
Kirk moved restlessly in his chair and, two point three metres away, Spock waited.
Garrovick’s dead-white face. That single, fatal, frozen, moment, relived over and over and over again. A hundred nightmares and a hundred regrets. Garrovick’s hand on his shoulder, his first promotion, his quiet smile, his louder laugh.
There was a part of Kirk which, far from forgetting the past, had carried Garrovick around very close to him in the early months of the five year mission. He had wanted so much to take the best of Garrovick into his new life, to be the commander Garrovick had been, to inspire and to lead and to comfort and to confront. And in all this, he had never forgotten that he was the lucky one. Garrovick had never gone on to further commands – instead, a smell of honey, a distant planet, a bone-white face. That was the trouble with comrades in arms – because you came to depend on them for more than alpha shift, more than weapons practice, until they became more than family. Until the smell of honey.
How to tell Spock, of all people, the lessons he had learned from the Farragut?
He said, brusquely, without thinking,
“It doesn’t always help, Spock. The list of the dead is always longer than the time you have to remember them.”
Spock’s face changed very slightly, and he said,
“Perhaps on occasion four thousand lives too long.”
Shuttered hazel eyes met dark Vulcan gaze.
“Off limits, Commander.”
“Captain. By the time I had deduced your connection to the events which took place on Tarsus Four, you had already been for some time a target for murder. My role was to protect my commanding officer. En route to Benecia, you called Kodos your personal business, but I indicated then that matters constituted my personal business when it might interfere with the smooth operation of the ship.”
Into the next silence, he added,
“Had you been killed, I could reasonably have been accused of failing in my duties.”
Kirk’s lips twisted.
“That would never have done. I apologise, Mr Spock. No one could reasonably have thought that of you.”
But that was unfair, and he knew it, knew perfectly well what Spock meant by I could reasonably have been accused of failing in my duties. Was it fair to have kept silence on Tarsus Four when he had so berated Spock for not speaking about his own seven year cycle? The cycle of Tarsus was less about the number of years and more about a cycle of bad dreams, waking up sweat-drenched in the middle of the night a thousand thousand miles from Tarsus, until the wheel was stopped forever in orbit around Benecia.
McCoy had accused him of seeking vengeance and Spock had accused him of inviting death, but he had only been after the end of the dreams. What dreams had Spock suffered, all his life, including about the pon farr cycle? For a person like Spock, losing control and sanity, even temporarily, must be an anathema. And there were plenty of other reasons for Spock to wake at night, staring into the darkness. Except, as he had been told often enough, Vulcans do not dream.
He wondered, suddenly, about that first game of chess, the briefing he had never given Spock. What would have happened to them, if he had said, “Commander, there are things you need to know, including that I once saw three people walk down a road in Tarsus Four to a firing squad. There was a girl I loved with black hair and a birthmark on her cheek, and two boys who used to dare me to jump into the sea on a rough day when the wind was up. I see them, sometimes, still at night. Are there things which you see, in the dark before first shift starts?” And perhaps Spock would have talked, or perhaps he wouldn’t. And perhaps they would still be sitting here in a cloaked shuttle in Romulan space, or perhaps they wouldn’t.
Perhaps sometimes didactic memory wasn’t just what the Vulcan Masters gave you but what you gave yourself. And who knows whether you’d made the right choices.
“All right, Spock,” he managed, and then found a compromising grin. “No more secrets, then.”
He thought Spock nodded. It didn’t feel like much had been achieved, but perhaps they understood the journey better.
Spock was bent over the console, his fingers playing a light, rapid staccato. Kirk watched, eyes fixed on the monitor, the silence broken only by McCoy, who emerged from the back of the cabin to say,
“What’s going on?”
“Better get to sleep, Bones,” Kirk said, without turning round. “You’re already late.”
“Not till you tell me what’s going on.”
“Romulan space control is asking who we are.”
McCoy came nearer.
“I thought we were supposed to be invisible.”
“We are. We’re also getting nearer to the homeworld and that means more traffic. This is not a security check, it’s more like automated traffic control – we need to book a slot without raising awareness of our existence as such. Otherwise, people will bump into us. You wouldn’t like that.”
“And that’s what Spock’s supposed to be doing? Pretending to be a shuttle navigation system? Well, that’s a relief and I can go back to sleep without worrying. He could do it in his sleep, Jim. Man’s much better at pretending to be a computer than pretending to be human.”
“Doctor,” from Spock, in the words of a quotation, “you forget, I am not-“
“- human,” McCoy finished. “Never, Spock. I can safely promise you I never forget it. Not once. Ever. Goodnight, Jim.”
Kirk allowed himself a smile of ancient memory and in the silence that followed McCoy’s departure, Spock straightened and said,
“The shuttle systems are now working within Romulan space control matrices and our course trajectory should cause no problem, sir.”
“Thank you, Commander,” Kirk said.
“Moreover,” Spock continued, “now that we are sufficiently close to Romulus, it would be possible without undue risk of detection to attempt encrypted communication with the frequency formerly used by Commander Colton.”
“Set up a relay message, Spock. Just a twenty four hour loop, nothing more frequent. So if anyone at all is using the frequency, they will know we are here.”
Spock nodded without reply and turned back to the console.
Kirk sat down, eyes still on Spock, still with a slight smile for the absent doctor. Without warning, as he straightened against the back of the chair, he heard McCoy’s voice, followed by Spock’s.
A vessel this size cannot be run by one computer.
We are attempting to prove it can run this ship more efficiently than man.
When was that? Bob Wesley’s face swam before him, McCoy and a tray with two glasses on it. Did you see the love light in Spock's eyes? The right computer finally came along.
The whole sorry episode replayed itself in his mind, start to finish, from the eerie experience of commanding a crew of 20 on his Enterprise through to the deaths of the captain and first officer of the Excalibur. Jack Harris had been a friend of Kirk’s from Academy days – both from Iowa, they had formed an easy and undemanding bond, had enjoyed the banter of mock-competition (and real competition) over career progress and also enjoyed occasionally crossing paths in remote starbases until Harris had been blown into small pieces by Kirk’s ship, under the control of M5. He tended to think of it as “the M5 time” or as Jack’s death, but he knew that Spock would reckon it by stardate.
It could tell you a lot about a person, how they referred to things. Kirk knew of old that if you asked Scotty if he’d had a good leave, he’d tell you about the bars he had visited and the quality of the alcohol, with particular reference to anything approximating to his beloved whisky. If you asked McCoy, he would almost certainly come up with a list of shortcomings – about how impossible it was to really enjoy yourself in deep space (Call that a holiday, Jim?), about the people (It’s a miracle that lot ever got into space) and about the fact that he’d had to beam somewhere just to start the process. Conversely, on the one or two occasions when the ship’s CMO had managed to combine shore leave with particularly beautiful scenery or when he’d actually managed to meet someone whose company he’d enjoyed, he would go very quiet and smile and say little.
Kirk wasn’t sure if he were able to apply the test to himself. He suspected, though, that there were two key reference points in any story – where was his ship and what was the human cost? So he would think about that time I lost control of the Enterprise and Jack Harris died.
Spock? Spock, he suspected, would think of it as Stardate… Well, he would put it to the test.
“I have been thinking of our encounter with Richard Daystrom.”
“You are referring,” said Spock, on a rare occasion when he was entirely unaware of the significance of his words, “to the events of Stardate 4729.4.”
Kirk let out a breath, not quite a sigh, not quite an acknowledgement. The chronicler of stardates became aware that, whilst the significance of his words still escaped him, significance there had been. He cast his commanding officer a slightly puzzled, questioning glance.
Kirk was silent for a minute, and then said, somewhat in a rush, as though the words had been held up, waiting for the opening,
“I always wondered if we hadn’t both got something wrong, back there.”
Spock finished setting controls and turned back to him.
“Are you able to elucidate, sir?”
Kirk studied his hands briefly, and then looked up and said to the console,
“Took you a while, that’s all.”
Vulcan eyes considered him.
“Are you seeking to indicate that the length of time before which I concluded –?“
“Yes.” A single monosyllabic interruption, and a lack of appetite to listen to a translation into Vulcan of what was, to Kirk, a perfectly simple and obvious summary. Yes, it had taken him a while.
It had taken a long while. He remembered now that Spock had known about M5 from the beginning. Even before Wesley’s briefing. He had said - The most ambitious computer complex ever created. Its purpose is to correlate all computer activity aboard a starship, to provide the ultimate in vessel operation and control. He, Kirk, had fallen gradually more silent from the very beginning, from Wesley’s cheerful insouciance, Daystrom’s bizarre, off-beat communications through to that moment in his quarters with McCoy when he admitted to being at odds with his ship. A thing of no little moment for James T Kirk, who was arguably closer to his ship than to most members of his family; closer than he was to a working knowledge of rather more Starfleet Regulations than he would admit; closer than to his own fingertips. Kirk, who could function better with a broken leg than a damaged warp coil and who was not always as clear as he might have been where his own consciousness ended and where the navigation system of the Enterprise began.
One of the many foundations on which Kirk’s friendship for Spock was built was their common love for the ship. Of course, the love wasn’t common because Vulcans have no emotions, and because even were that not the case, it would be illogical to entertain them for an instrument of transport, for dilithium crystal-powered warp engines, for bridge and brig, for deck and desk. It was nevertheless the case that the Enterprise had always been both child and parent to the bond between the two men – a third party ghost at every game of chess, every shore leave, every briefing. Kirk might have had the lead in the almost physical attachment he bore for his ship, but he would look to Spock every time danger came to share focus and awareness.
And yet Spock’s Vulcan version of enthusiasm on being informed of the nature of the M5 mission had been followed by a Vulcan version of hero worship for Daystrom - Fascinating, Doctor. This computer has a potential beyond anything you've ever done. An early course change merited the comment – M5 has performed admirably, causing the Vulcan’s captain to bite back (with a tone no less sharp for being unspoken) a comment to the effect that it was illogical to admire a computer. Instead, he had said he would run the ship his own way and Spock had actually sided with Daystrom – His computer could have brought us here as easily as the navigator. Machine over man. First, Chekhov, Spock’s own protégé, next….? That had provoked his first retort – he had accused Spock of enjoying the situation and Spock had immediately retreated from Effusive Vulcan to a smooth reference to efficiencies. It still hadn’t stopped him agreeing with Daystrom about Kirk’s use of language - Captain, the computer does not judge. It makes logical selections.
The truth was that Spock had only changed his mind about M5 when he had first started to realise something was wrong. M5 had started shutting down systems all over the ship, and Spock had suddenly changed tone. It appears to me this unit is drawing more power than before. Daystrom had drawn an analogy with the needs of the human body at rest or at work and Spock had turned in a heart-beat from M5 fan to ship’s Science Officer and said, Doctor, this unit is not a human body. The computer can process information, but only the information which is put into it.
He had said the words which meant the most to Kirk. He had given Kirk the gift which he would carry around with him the rest of his life like a medal, like a benison - Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them. Captain, the starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it, or him.
But the truth was he had only done so after he had realised that Daystrom’s machine was flawed.
Yes. It had taken him a while.
Spock said, carefully,
“At the point when it became clear that M5 was defective, it was essential for the safety of all personnel that the experiment should be terminated as a matter of urgency. Before that time, Captain, it would have been not only contrary to orders but also illogical to do anything but support the effort to determine the capacity of the machine.”
“Contrary to orders and also illogical. I guess it doesn’t get much worse than that,” Kirk said drily.
“Are you suggesting I should have acted otherwise, sir?”
Kirk met the dark, enquiring eyes opposite him, wondered briefly about the conversation he was getting into, and then said, almost impatiently,
“It’s not about following orders or not following orders, Spock. It’s about what you believe. Supposing M5 had not been flawed. Would that have been a better outcome? Where were you going with that, exactly?”
“Had the experiment been successful, Dr Daystrom would have established the capacity of the machine. There is no logic in not pursuing an experiment to its natural conclusion, Captain, nor in declining to expand the totality of knowledge to the fullest extent possible. That has no bearing on my views as to the desirability of Constitution Class vessels being placed under the command of computers. I believe you are aware of my views in that regard.”
“Is that so?” An unblinking hazel stare met the Vulcan gaze. “You surprise me, Commander. Not a very teleological standpoint. Are you suggesting that all forms – all forms – of knowledge should be pursued, experientially?”
Spock looked wary, and waited.
“How long a human being could survive in the polar ice cap without thermal clothing? What is the probability of survival with sanity for a single crewman in a spacesuit abandoned with a good supply of food and oxygen in the Neutral Zone? Would you survive longer under Klingon or Romulan torture?”
“Captain, these scenarios are hardly comparable –“
“No,” Kirk agreed. “They are not. However, it is singularly dangerous to invent and test drive a machine with the purpose of establishing its capacity to run a starship if you happen not to believe that this is a good idea. Worse than dangerous, Mr Spock, it is illogical. What do you think of that?”
Into the space between them, Kirk’s own personal nightmare. Worse than what had actually transpired. What if M5 had actually worked?
Spock said: “You are assuming alternative extreme examples, Captain. Your approach suggests that the result might either have been failure or else the development of technology which would have been substituted for humanoid command of starships. However, the success of the experiment need not have led to such a definitive change. It is likely that, for reasons discussed at the time, the role of the senior command crew would have remained unaltered but with the benefit of significantly advanced intelligent on-board systems.”
“For reasons discussed at the time? Spock, you’re displaying an uncharacteristic naivety. You and I both know that technology is a Pandora’s box. And,” allowing a softening of his features in the direction of his First, “the fact that the disadvantages of such a development might have become apparent to certain members of the senior crew serving under the commanding officer involved the M5 experiment does not mean that Starfleet Command would have been moved in the same way, given how moving they might also have felt the implications for future budget and resources.”
“The comprehensive replacement of commanding officers would have had implications far beyond budget and resources,” said the representative of the senior crew in question. Kirk shrugged impatiently.
“So you said at the time and you won’t find any disagreement from me. But that’s not really the point here, Spock. The point is that Daystrom was about to hand them an invitation in gold copperplate to cut all staffing budgets. To have machines in charge of strategy, of diplomacy – of every endeavour to seek out new life forms and new civilisations. With your very enthusiastic endorsement. Until it all went wrong.”
Spock retreated, almost visibly.
“Captain, your approach would constitute a very considerable deterrence from the conduct of future scientific experiments.”
Hazel and dark eyes met, clashed stubbornly.
Another memory presented itself to Kirk, out of nowhere. Spock’s hands on the Nomad probe. I am performing my function, he had said. I am the other. We are complete. Not for the first time, he speculated as to his First Officer’s ability to communicate across the divide. At the time, he had been afraid, too worried about Spock’s safety to have the time to reflect on what the mind meld had truly meant, but afterwards it had troubled him. There had been other examples, not least the most recent and momentous, V’Ger – but Kirk still shied away from that particular memory. The mind-melds he himself had shared with Spock over the years had been characterised by a feeling of mutuality, of a deep and profound shared understanding, of an avenue to a deeper knowledge of an alien mind which happened to be the most familiar of all to Kirk.
How did it feel to Spock to undergo that experience with a machine? How was it even possible?
He said now, feeling his way,
“You said it yourself, Spock. Computers are about supporting human beings, not the other way around. The pursuit of science can’t be an over-riding objective. Surely mankind comes first?”
“Captain, one of the purposes of the pursuit of scientific knowledge is to improve the life of man.”
“What are the others?”
“It would be logical,” Spock said gently, “to assume that you yourself would agree that the pursuit of knowledge is an objective in itself. To learn more, to know what there is to know. Was not that at the heart of the five year mission?”
“You are sounding,” Kirk said dangerously, “more and more like V’Ger.”
There was a brief, taut silence, and then he went on,
“Machine can be enemy to man, Spock. You and I know that very well. We saw that not only in M5 but also Nomad.”
“Both instances of computers whose true purpose and function had been distorted by interference from external sources, sir.”
“And yet,” Kirk said, “you were sorry when we got rid of Nomad. The ship imperilled, Scotty and Uhura both all but lost to us, and – what was it you said?”
The destruction of Nomad was a great waste, Captain. It was a remarkable instrument.
Without accessing didactic memory to recall words he surmised the other could remember, Spock said, “My comments did not in any way detract from satisfaction at the removal of the threat to the Enterprise and its crew, sir.”
“Really? Remind me of the last time we came across a super-computer which was running human lives to the greater good of all. Go on. And, while you are about it, remind me of a time when you didn’t regret the liberation of the society in question.”
If you thought about it one way, that was pretty much all they had done for five years. Saved the galaxy from the evils of defective electronic dictatorships (in between improving their chess game, learning Vulcan (Kirk), learning Standard idiom (Spock), pretending not to understand Standard idiom (Spock), losing too many men (Kirk), learning to be there after Kirk lost too many men (Spock). And learning more about the dynamic between man and machine than either would have thought possible, along, of course, with the dynamic between man and man, and man and Vulcan. How was it that it was the relationship between human and machine which proved such a tripping point in his friendship with Spock, when it was the dynamic between human and half-human which defined them?)
On Sigma Draconis Seven, he had said to Kara, There are other ways. You’ll discover them. Spock had not complained then, but then the liberation of the Morg and the Eymorg had been the price of Spock’s own life. Unfair, perhaps, but true. The price of McCoy’s life had been liberating the people of Yonada from the oracle; no complaints then, either. Gamma Trianguli Six, Vaal going dark in green smoke and fire. And Spock’s question – I’m not at all certain we did the correct thing on Gamma Trianguli Six. No. He hadn’t been certain then, either.
That had also taken him quite a while.
There had been others, as well, of course. Even where the computer had not dominated, they had seen their share of communities where the imbalance had been obvious. Eminiar Seven and Vendikar – another computer-dominated dynamic, even if with rather more conscious co-dependence on the part of the societies involved. Miramanee’s planet, the obelisk which was built for their protection by the benevolent paternalism of the Preservers. Losira and the computerised defence system of the Kalandans which lingered far into the future to kill instead of protecting.
“An objective approach would analyse the relationship between man and machine as complementary not competitive. Man invents; machines serve. In a healthy environment, there is no question of choosing one over the other because their roles differ. Where the Enterprise discovered civilisations dominated by machines, or abandoned or harmed by machines, it was because man, intentionally or negligently or erroneously, had suborned his own independent thinking to computer programming, including where that programming was defective.”
“So why the expressions of regret, Spock? Why the uncertainty? When we destroyed Vaal, Nomad? Why did you think building M5 was a good idea?”
The Vulcan said, very quietly,
“It is only by the search for knowledge that man grows, sir.”
“Is that what Vaal’s people were doing? Growing?”
Into the sudden antagonism between them, sparked by the tone of his accusation, Kirk wondered suddenly what Spock had seen on Gamma Trianguli Six. What had induced the Science Officer of the Enterprise to regret the end of a stunted society, the start of true individual growth, of natural development? He heard McCoy’s voice, suddenly, from earlier in the mission to Romulus.
His solution is to go one way or the other – Ms Kalomi, who meant he could forget about his Vulcan half, or Gol, where he could forget about being human. You? You keep dragging him out of those simple, easy places. You keep telling him he has to learn to compromise, he has to live in the middle, learn to be half-and-half.
Was it the simplicity of Gamma Trianguli Six which had appealed to Spock and was it the black-and-white of man versus machine which led him to the world of computers? Even when they were wrong?
He realised he has said it out loud.
“Even when they are wrong?”
And Spock, reading the unspoken as well as the spoken thought, and following without effort a thought process as familiar as his own (even if remarkably different), said only,
“Not always, sir. Not on Starbase Eleven.”
Kirk stopped dead, inasmuch as a man sitting in a small shuttle cabin can be said to do so.
Ben Finney. The ion storm, going to red alert, jettisoning the pod.
The courtroom on Starbase Eleven. Stone, Areel Shaw, Finney, Spock and his game of chess. He had faced a machine across a witness stand and it was not the humans, not Commodore Stone, not his former lover, Shaw, but Spock who had said, The computer is inaccurate, never the less… I do not dispute it. I merely state that it is wrong. And then the personal accolade, the counterweight to A starship also runs on loyalty… Spock, saying: I speak from pure logic. If I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has, in fact, fallen.
He started to turn to Spock, the memory washing over his face, more than an apology written in his eyes - which the Vulcan just had time to read before the communication alert sounded into the space in the cabin.
Someone was answering Spock’s coded signal.
Spock was the first to move. Long, Vulcan fingers moved rapidly over the console, and then he paused and looked over at his CO.
“Captain, we are being hailed on the encoded frequency from the Romulan homeworld. I have set up an encrypted communication shield which will permit a dialogue in real time should you so wish.”
Kirk nodded briefly, as though dismissing any other option.
“Let’s hear it, Commander.”
A moment of static, and then, with an odd abruptness after the muffled intimacy of the past weeks, an alien voice came over the miles into the cabin of the Polaris.
“Polaris, come in Polaris. This is Legate Marillus.”
Trading glances with Spock, Kirk leant slightly forward and said.
“Legate, this is James T Kirk of the Federation shuttle Polaris.”
“Kirk, I have been expecting you.” The voice was unaccented, pleasantly modulated, with no hint either of hostility or urgency. Kirk hesitated, and then went on,
“You are aware of the purpose of our journey?”
“I am aware. There is much of which you are unaware, Captain. You are one hour’s travel from my current location. I will send my coordinates and await your arrival. Is Commander Spock with you?”
A predictable eyebrow rose; a bisyllabic response:
“Spock. I look forward to meeting you. I expect you to beam down alone.”
And, abruptly, the connection ended.
“Did he cut it off? Or was it something else, some interference? Can we get him back?”
Spock examined the readings briefly and shook his head.
“The communication was ended at source, Captain, for reasons I am not in a position to determine. He is no longer responding to our signal.”
“Hmm.” Kirk sat back and scowled. Spock said nothing but waited, eyes on Kirk’s face. I expect you to beam down alone had contained at least six separate reasons for irritation on Kirk’s part which, at a rate of 0.85714 irritants per word was, in Spock’s view, an annoyance level well above average for Kirk.
Marillus was suggesting Kirk stay behind on the shuttle; he was, conversely, expecting Spock, of all people, to go in Kirk’s place; he had made this suggestion to Spock direct and not to Kirk; he had given no explanation; he had ended the conversation to prevent any questions being asked and, lastly and almost worst of all, he had “expected” this course of action without requesting or asking Kirk’s permission or opinion.
A score of six in seven words was, in Spock’s experience, almost unparalleled.
Since Kirk did not immediately reply, Spock wondered whether it might be a profitable use of the time available to consider comparators. With Kirk, irritation was usually about receiving orders. Space Station K7, Admiral Fitzpatrick, Effective immediately, you will render any aid and assistance which Undersecretary Baris may require. The safety of the grain and the project is your responsibility. Kirk had been furious, and Spock had known that his Now, that’s just lovely actually meant that he would have by a significant margin preferred to go a couple of rounds in a boxing ring with Fitzpatrick than carry out the orders in question. But the Admiral, like most Starfleet ranking officers showed, in Spock’s opinion, a regrettable tendency to unnecessary verbosity and the proportion of irritants to actual words was low.
Eminiar Seven came to mind, and the initial signal which had warned them to stay clear. It had been a code seven-ten and Kirk had been on the cusp of removing his ship from danger when Ambassador Fox had come up with You will disregard that signal. Spock dismissed the memory. Kirk had never enjoyed missions which involved the transport of superior civilian personnel but, regardless, there had been only four causes for irritation in that remark: the risk to the ship, the irrationality of Fox disregarding Kirk’s advice, the brusqueness of the order and the author of the remark. An irritant level of 0.8 per word, which was less than Marillus’ comment.
(Kirk, of course, had subsequently been made even more angry by Once your ship was in orbit about our planet, it became a legitimate target. It has been classified destroyed by a tricobalt satellite explosion. However, the number of irritants (one very large one – the outrage of the threat to Kirk’s ship) was clearly outweighed, at least in numerical terms, by the quantity of words.)
Spock abandoned the train of thought as whimsy, but not before he remembered his exchange with Kirk at the end of that mission. He had said, Captain, you almost make me believe in luck, and Kirk had said, You almost make me believe in miracles, and he had wondered off and on ever since then exactly what Kirk had meant. Because a miracle, properly considered, is an unnatural phenomenon in the physical world which transcends all known powers and circumstances and is ascribed to a supernatural or divine cause.
If he, Spock, had arrived close to an appreciation of the random factors which seemed perpetually to operate in Kirk’s favour, regardless of the odds of probability and despite any reasonable assumption as to the likely outcome in any one scenario; if Kirk’s Vulcan First Officer had re-considered a lifetime of logic and calculus to allow that there might be an unknown and unknowable ingredient in the tide of the affairs of man, or at least of one particular man – could this, truly, constitute a miracle?
He had never found the answer in himself and never asked Kirk.
He was back in the present, in the cabin of the Polaris, and Kirk was saying, predictably,
“I’ll brief McCoy. You and I can beam down and he can manage things from here.” And, almost as an aside, as if posing an academic question, “I’d like to know why he wanted you to beam down alone.”
Spock had thought that he was going to ponder the problem silently in his thoughts, had not realised he was going to discuss it aloud with Kirk until with a sort of detached interest he heard his own voice saying,
“Captain, it is conceivable that the Legate’s suggestion was made in the expectation that, as a Vulcan, I am more easily able to avoid suspicion on Romulus and that I might be a safer choice for this particular mission.”
Kirk gave his First a look with which the Vulcan was extremely familiar.
“Thank you, Commander. I think I’m capable of keeping a low profile.” On their last sally into Romulan society, Spock had said Look downwards and stay behind me at all times. “I did not,” he went on, “spend the last few weeks on the Polaris simply in order to act as a glorified taxi driver, nor do I think that was quite what Morrow and Wesley had in mind.” He had in his eyes a slightly faraway look – another look with which Spock was well acquainted. It meant that although Kirk was sitting in the main cabin of the Polaris and his direct line of sight encompassed the main viewer, the console and his Vulcan First Officer, in fact he was looking at a remembered holograph of the Romulan homeworld, or perhaps the last planet to which they had beamed down, where they had retrieved the dilithium crystals. Or perhaps it was another planet, another day, a phaser in his hand and his senses on red alert and an opponent out there, somewhere, waiting for him. Kirk was part flesh, part bridge, but there was another part of Kirk which was the man of action, the man who wanted his feet on the dirt of a planet, the wind in his face and the physical challenge of the hunt. The man who couldn’t be left behind to mind the store.
But this was not the five year mission. This was after Gol, after V’Ger, after Mount Seleya. After didactic memory and after he and Kirk had stolen a supply of dilithium crystals from a Romulan Chief Engineer in exchange for a bruising alien blow to the face of a human who had dared to raise his eyes on a Romulan outpost.
“Sir, it would be logical –“
“Don’t logic me, Spock,” Kirk said, brusquely. “You’re not seriously suggesting that while you go sort out the mission, without back-up, I sit up here and play tiddlywinks?”
“The manifest of the Polaris does not currently include a recreational device of that name,” began Spock, but even the Vulcans-do-not-understand-Standard-idiom game appeared to be of no avail on this occasion, to judge by Kirk’s unyielding expression. Spock paused to ask himself why he was expending energy on what was arguably an illogical attempt to persuade Kirk, given that the two had had this conversation six hundred and eighty-nine times before and Spock had yet to win.
What reason was there to try so hard to keep Kirk on the Polaris? A stone monument, a carved name. A throwaway line in a Romulan engineering outpost. A terse command to leave his captain behind. Why?
Was it possible that the trail had been laid in order to persuade Kirk to beam down? If so, for whatever reason, whatever awaited them had analysed Kirk’s psych profile accurately. On the other hand, it would have been unnecessary. Persuading James T Kirk to beam down into maximum danger to save the mission was about as difficult as persuading a cooped up greyhound to go for a run.
In the face opposite him, the features had shifted; less greyhound, more feline suspicion.
“Why are you so keen to take on Marillus by yourself, anyway, Spock?”
In fact, any intention to engage with the Romulan Legate without the familiar presence of the man opposite him played no part whatsoever in Spock’s thinking, and he was opening his mouth to inform his captain of this fact when Kirk continued,
“Don’t you think the boot is somewhat on the other foot?”
Judging that this was not a discussion about footwear, Spock effortlessly concluded that no response was required at this juncture. He remained silent, whilst a rush of memories tugged at Kirk, like small children asking for attention.
The truth was that he, Kirk, was not the only one who had occasionally stuck his neck out where angels feared to tread.
The truth was that it had occasionally been very hard to stop Spock from placing himself implacably in the line of fire, and another truth was that those had not been good times for Kirk.
Spock hadn’t actually ignored orders to go after the giant single-celled organism in the Gamma Seven-A system. He had, instead, forced Kirk to choose between sending him and sending McCoy.
He had been just as argumentative in the tunnels of Janus VI, when Kirk had ordered him to help Scotty keep the makeshift pump operating and the Vulcan had insisted on staying at Kirk’s side.
He had, of course, taken things one stage further at Talos IV, in his quest to interpose himself between Kirk and any kind of risk or danger.
There were other, more recent memories, still raw, unhealed. Spock, going after V’Ger through Airlock Four. Spock, entering the reactor room of the Enterprise.
He said, evenly,
“I’ll let you go down there on your own if you admit that this is neither a logical nor professional conversation.”
“Sir?” There was nothing in that monosyllable that conceded even that Kirk had been speaking in Standard. Kirk smiled to himself, and fell prey to a brief fantasy about a conversation with Spock in which didactic memory permitted an open dialogue without the need for subterfuge. He would say, “C’mon, Spock, admit that you don’t like me beaming down alone because you’re worried about me,” and Spock would say, ”Jim, the Captain of a starship is classified as indispensable personnel, and part of my duty is to ensure your personal safety. However, it is also the fact that our current chess match is not complete and if anything were to befall you, I do not anticipate playing chess with any other individual”, and he would say, “Spock, thank you, but after what Vulcan and the Academy have invested in you, you’re not exactly dispensible either, and in any event, it’s what we both signed up for,” and Spock would say, “The truth is my experience suggest humans are an illogical hindrance on missions of this nature and the chances of success would be significantly increased were you to remain behind”, and he would say, “You must be worried, Spock, you’re forgetting that Vulcans do not lie”, and Spock would say, “Jim, this mission is not dangerous for me. Regardless of the hindrance of your presence and despite the fact that it is illogical to say so, your companionship would enhance the occasion for me. Nevertheless, for that very reason, I ask you to reconsider,” and he would reflect that he, too, would be unlikely to seek another chess opponent, in the event of anything happening to his First Officer. That Spock’s presence would enhance the occasion, too. And he might even give in. Might he?
That could have been where the conversation ended. He was aware of a rush of old affection, which could even have taken him as far as OK, Spock, you go down and check out Marillus and I’ll give you a ten minute head start. The feeling ebbed, then, and memory carried him into a very different slipstream.
He said, the words coming harshly, not knowing if Spock would even know what he was talking about, if he were aware of how long the words had been waiting. That there had never been enough time to heal and to talk, after Gol.
“You disobeyed orders and you just went out there on your own. It was the most critical mission of our lives, the whole of Earth waiting for us, and you were the senior officer and indispensable to the mission. I’ve just been demoted before the whole Federation for breaking the chain of command, Spock. Forget that it gave me what I wanted. Yes, I know I have a reputation for playing cut and loose with orders when it’s been necessary. But you? How about you?”
It was possible that neither Morrow nor Wesley would fully appreciate the phrase playing cut and loose with orders when it’s been necessary, possible also that they might have doubted whether the most recently appointed starship captain had entirely understood the reasons for his change in rank. For the two men in the cabin, necessary had its own meaning and momentarily hung, silently, in the air between them, with the faintest echo of Tarsus Four and Altair Six, even before Kirk had gone down in the annals of history for being the first starship captain to steal his own ship.
Truth was, the times they had broken orders had always been for the other.
Not Airlock Four, though. Another reason why it was a bad memory.
Spock said, very quietly,
“It was the only chance to reach V’Ger.”
“You never asked my permission.”
“You would not have given it.”
Kirk bit back a sudden desire to laugh.
“You may have failed to understand a core ingredient of the ethos of military command, Mr Spock.”
The two regarded each other. Kirk said, directly into the face opposite,
“There would not have been the same end to that mission if I hadn’t had you on the bridge at the end. Not for Earth. And not for me.”
“Captain, there would not have been the same end to the mission had I not contacted V’Ger. Further, with your assistance, I managed to effect a safe return to the ship.”
“That depends on your definition of a safe return,” he said drily, remembering Spock’s dead weight in his arms, the dark, lifeless gaze – he moved, almost instinctively, as if to turn away from the memory. But then, what was a safe return? Spock had returned from Gol, too, but in an almost equally lifeless state. The first words he had really spoken to Kirk, since the end of the five year mission, had been in sickbay. This simple feeling.
It hadn’t only been Kirk he had left, of course. A host of friends, colleagues and admirers in one of the most successful and renowned careers in Starfleet; McCoy, whose disapproval and almost tangibly Southern irritation barely masked his hurt at Spock’s abrupt departure; Spock’s own family, cut off by the gates of Gol. And what had finally brought him back? An overgrown, malfunctioning twentieth century space probe.
In Sickbay, he had said, V’Ger has knowledge that spans this universe. And yet with all this pure logic, V’Ger is barren, cold, no mystery, no beauty. I should have known.
How was it that he and Spock had learned their greatest lessons from malfunctioning machines? They had only just finished talking through M5, which had taught him something about command and taught Spock something about it, too – but the lesson would have been a very different one had M5 worked. How was it that someone as logical as Spock could learn a life lesson about the limitations of logic from a broken probe? V’Ger should not have been able to amass the knowledge it did and it should not have been able to feel, either. Where was the learning, there? It was V’Ger’s voice which had saved Spock. Not his own.
Spock watched him. He did not need a mind meld to know where Kirk’s thoughts had gone. He could have told Kirk that he had heard his thoughts as well as V’Ger’s on Vulcan at the moment of entering the Kolinahr, and that it was therefore not strictly true that he, Spock, had been affected only by V’Ger. He did not think, though, that Kirk was as troubled by his manner of leaving Gol as he was by the fact of him going there in the first place.
He said, now, into the space between them,
“To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life forms and new civilisations.”
Kirk looked up at him, sharply.
“Was not our mission always to increase knowledge, Captain? Was it so difficult to believe that I would also wish to increase the knowledge of my own planet?”
“There’s a difference between knowledge and brain-washing, Spock,” he said, finding that they were, after all, having the conversation he had been deferring ever since that exchange with Spock and Decker on the bridge of his ship - I offer my services as Science Officer.
“Sir, it is possible that your perspective on the Kolinahr discipline may not reach the standards of cultural sensitivity required under Starfleet’s diversity policy.”
Kirk’s face tightened.
“Sorry about that, Commander. It’s still brain-washing.”
“It is an unparalleled opportunity to expand personal knowledge.”
“It is an equally unparalleled opportunity to lose personal knowledge. It depends, doesn’t it, on what you mean by personal knowledge? Was it really worth it, Spock? To throw everything else away?”
“Sir,” he said, waited a long 0.2 of a second, and then said, “The Masters teach that all personal dynamics are stronger for the discipline of knowledge and logic.”
“I don’t doubt it, but they are not in this shuttlecraft and that is not my way. We managed pretty well, you and I, for five years, without their help.”
It was out there, between them.
“Captain, you have just referred to a number of occasions when I disobeyed orders whilst serving under you.”
Kirk’s eyebrows shot up.
“Don’t tell me that’s why you went to Gol, Spock. They were hardly going to reinforce your engagement with the discipline of the service.”
“No,” Spock agreed. He was feeling his way, wanting to offer Kirk something. He was reasonably sure that the human would never understand Spock’s attempt at the Kolinahr but he was also aware of Kirk’s need to try, to have something other than the comm Spock had left him, that day at Starfleet HQ, two months after the Enterprise had come home. He hoped Kirk had forgotten the note. From memory, it had comprised twenty words, most of which had been It was an honour to serve with you. And, of course, I am leaving for Vulcan immediately. He had also thrown in both their names and an inevitable Live long and prosper. He was aware, of course, that this hope was illogical and that Kirk could probably recite the message from memory. He had probably even worked out, as Spock had, that the Vulcan had left him precisely four words for every twelve months they had served together.
“You are mistaken, however,” he continued, now, “in your assumption that I never intended to come back.”
Kirk’s eyes widened, genuinely surprised.
“Come back? You were going to be the first Vulcan ever to leave Gol? You were going to leave your brain behind in the desert and hope no one was going to notice? How? And why?”
How seemed easier.
“I am,” he said gravely, “many things which other Vulcans are not and I have done many things which no other Vulcan has done. Why should this be different? I had no specific intention to return and no intention to return to a specific destination but nor did I have a specific intention to remain permanently in Gol.”
Kirk thought this one through and nodded to admit its truth. And arrived at the true question. The single syllable, every other escape route blocked.
“It is,” Spock said, very gently and very simply, “who I am.”
“It isn’t who you have to be, though.”
“There has always been an element of choice,” he agreed. “However, for twenty three point one five years before entering Gol, my choices were different.”
“Are you saying it was something you owed your father?” Kirk asked, brow slightly furrowed. “Is this just about focusing on each of your halves in turn and not on your whole?”
“Captain, you know better than to limit your perception of me to one who is wholly human, albeit with ears of a different shape.” Kirk smiled, slightly, acknowledging the truth of this. Spock continued, “That does not mean I am not capable of applying human experience to enable me to understand my Vulcan heritage. Likewise, it did not seem to me illogical to harness Vulcan wisdom to assist in human endeavour.”
Kirk’s eyebrows lifted, again.
“You’re telling me you were not only planning to come back from Gol but that you were planning to bring back what you learned there to help you to function in the real world? In Starfleet?”
Spock gazed back, steadily, his silence an assent.
“But Spock, that’s crazy. How could Gol give you anything which would help – frankly, anything you needed, on the Enterprise?”
“Captain, you forget, we were no longer serving on the Enterprise,” Spock said, his deceptively simple words brushing past what must have been a key part of his reasoning for going. He went on, “And is that not what we did for five years? Learn and bring back. Observe and assimilate knowledge. We brought back countless techniques, medicines, advances to the Federation. We did not come back the same crew who left.”
No. No, they hadn’t. In lots of ways. Kirk had come back better at chess, for one thing. He had come back short by one sibling and several crew members, but in the credit column an extraordinary reputation, an unparalleled command experience, a permanent feeling of having his feet on the bridge and a tendency to listen for the warp engines when waking in the farm in Iowa. And a Vulcan friendship. He had come back with a Vulcan friendship, until he had read those twenty words on his computer at HQ and learned that he didn’t have it any more.
“I am half Vulcan. It was you who told me that I should use every part of who I am and not ignore it. I went to Gol in the belief that I would return more fully conversant with myself.”
Kirk said, “You were fine the way you were, Spock. We both were.”
“And yet,” the Vulcan said, “you have reminded of broken orders, of illogical decisions, of unprofessional evaluations. The Kolinahr discipline would have strengthened my ability to support you at times when perhaps you felt that was lacking. There would have been less reason for division, for divergence.”
Kirk battled, briefly, with this description of life after Gol – Spock’s expressionless voice in the early hours of the V’Ger mission, his own welcome ignored - a vision of taking that Spock to Omicron Ceti Three, to the Platonians, to the choices he had made with Spock’s help on the planet of the Guardian of Forever. Imagination failed. He repeated,
“We were fine the way we were.”
“Were we, Captain? Was there nothing you would have changed, including orders which were not carried out? Did others not suffer for that? Would that not have led to greater dangers, in the future? And does that mean that there was no way forward, no different choices possible? If so, how would you explain your own posting as Chief of Operations?”
Kirk said, mouth dry,
“That was not my choice.”
Spock looked at his captain and realised that Kirk might find more profitable than the current exchange his own earlier train of thought about the end of the Eminiar Seven mission. He wished he could find a way of telling Kirk that the Vulcan who had gone to Gol had taken with him the knowledge that logic alone could not explain Kirk’s ability to bend the tides of fortune to his personal ends, and that the very awareness of this inability constituted a miracle.
He said instead, very carefully, “There is always a level of choice and there is always an alternative and we always learn and grow from whatever steps we take, Captain. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Do I have your permission to beam down alone to the Legate’s coordinates?”
Meaning what? Kirk wondered. Meaning that Spock might otherwise go anyway? That he would disobey orders? Or was he saying the opposite, that the lessons of the years would help them both now to make a better choice, a more logical and professional way forward? Spock’s duty to him as the commanding officer, his own duty to Starfleet to secure the successful completion of the mission? Was that the brave new world that was on offer?
Or was it just the deal he had made? I’ll let you go down there on your own if you admit that this is neither a logical nor professional conversation.
He didn’t agree with much, if anything, of what Spock had said, but he had provided an answer and Kirk needed time to take it away and think it through.
At least for ten minutes.
A host of further unanswered questions began to surface in his thoughts. Maybe thirty.
“All right, Commander. I will be thirty minutes behind you. Let me know when you have your assessment of the situation.”
Spock nodded, as if agreeing to more than what his CO had said, and Kirk woke McCoy and briefed him and Spock assembled equipment and clothing in the manner of an experienced Starfleet officer who has beamed down in disguise under pressure to unfamiliar planets more often than he has been checkmated by his captain, and Kirk operated the transporter and watched his First Officer shimmer into nothing. A pang of disquiet touched him and he wished, passingly, he had never had the conversation with Spock and never agreed to let him go alone. And knew not what he wished.
You may have given up on me by now - so sorry for the long gap, caused by too much going on elsewhere. Just a short chapter but will get back on the case.
It turned out that you could understand in very slightly less than three point five seconds that you had made a mistake.
It wasn’t the fact that you were surrounded by five large Romulans when you had only been expecting one. It wasn’t the fact they were heavily armed and muscular and it wasn’t the fact that, as a major league practitioner yourself in the art of steely gazes, you recognised that you might for once be outclassed.
None of these things constituted a mistake. After all, if you hadn’t beamed into the receiving line of the Romulan Praetorian Guard, Kirk would have done so either alone, instead of you, or else a little in front of you, right there, within touching distance of your right shoulder. And as you were Kirk’s second-in-command and as you had just, at the six hundredth and ninetieth time of trying, convinced Kirk not to beam down into unknown peril then, even if a not insignificant part of your cranial capacity was currently (if reprehensively) engrossed in trying to understand the reason for that victory – well then, it would be illogical to view Kirk’s current absence as a mistake.
In fact, you realised, even as you turned to count your opponents, your eyes scanning rapidly to see if Legate Marillus could be identified among them, that Kirk had made precisely the same mistake as you. Because the two of you had actually spent the past five point nine weeks focusing almost exclusively on the past and not on the present. You knew that you had jointly been ordered to undertake the Polaris mission because Cochrane House had stipulated the deployment of an established team with strong rapport. You knew that both you and Kirk had harboured reservations on the subject, unspoken and in fact quite different from each other. You knew, without Kirk articulating the fact, that Kirk had doubted the continued existence, after Mount Seleya, of any rapport between the two of you. You had gone one step further and had struggled to understand the purpose, value, cause, mathematical parametres and molecular structure of that or any other instance of rapport.
You knew that Cochrane House had insisted on mission personnel who already had an established rapport on the ground that there would be insufficient time to develop one. You conceded, well before the elapse of three point five seconds, that you and Kirk might have profitably taken account of the advice implicit in this stipulation – in other words, that there would be insufficient time on the mission to rebuild a bond damaged not only by the events in the Mutara Nebula and the slopes of Mount Seleya but also long before, in the harsh desert of Gol and the corridors of Starfleet Command. Instead of that gradual reaching out, you might together have considered not V’Ger and Khan, but a lonely monument on an uninhabited world in the Neutral Zone; a binary beacon and a name carved in stone; and a casual comment by a Romulan Chief Engineer.
You knew exactly what it all meant, as you turned in an unsuccessful attempt simultaneously to meet five Romulan pairs of eyes.
Kirk was wrong and you were right. Human emotions were more than illogical – they were a chaotic and dangerous distraction. You had unforgivably allowed yourself to become embroiled in rebuilding human trust and understanding when you should have been working to safeguard one particular human’s life, partly because that was your job – and also because (and when you were facing five members of the Romulan Praetorian Guard and unlikely to see Kirk again you might as well admit it, if only to yourself) that was what you wanted to do.
But you had failed. You had failed and your failure would expose Kirk to terrible danger.
You said, less in hope but because it was the logical thing to say,
You wondered whether there were any chance at all of reaching your communicator to warn Kirk. It was clear that five weapons were likely to be deployed at the slightest movement. You knew it was illogical but you spared a nanosecond to consider whether Kirk would prefer your last moments to be expended in a vain attempt to survive or a fruitless effort to warn Kirk. Either course of action seemed unlikely to result in success. You remembered the long hours on the Polaris, Kirk’s low voice, the endless pictures of the past and rebuilding of trust for the future – a future that would never come, now - and you offered your commanding officer the gift of a fight for your own life. It seemed to you that this would have been what Kirk would have wanted you to do.
You dropped your hand to your phaser and before you even felt the comfort of its cool touch, you were floored by a heavy blow from behind. You were aware, as the pain started, that even for a being with superior mental powers, it is not easy to measure accurately the passage of time when suffering acute physical trauma, so you didn’t actually know how long you had left. It was less that you followed a stream of thought and more that you were aware of a number of distinct images.
You remembered the moment, years ago, when your hand hovered over a computer console to send a twenty word comm to Kirk. You had felt that Kirk had already begun to retreat from the person you had known on the Enterprise. He had been starting to disappear into the echelons of Starfleet Command and you had not entirely understood what had lain behind his decision to accept promotion, the swiftness with which the man on the bridge had become the man behind the desk. You could not see a place in this new world either for your captain or for you and the desert was beckoning and it was time to go home. All of which meant that it had been entirely illogical that it had taken you four minutes and thirteen seconds to activate the computer and send the message.
You had lost all sensation in your legs at the point that you remembered a morning in Gol. It had not been a morning of significance, simply one in a string of mornings, a time of hot sand, of unyielding desert rock and a long, monochrome journey of the mind. You had sat outside for an hour in early morning meditation and, as your eyes opened at the hour’s end, you had allowed your fingers to fall onto the sand. Between your thumb and forefinger you had rubbed a few grains and it had occurred to you, a thought from nowhere, that there was sand, too, on Kirk’s home planet; that Kirk had once spoken to you of childhood memories of the beach. He had offered once to take you there on leave, but you had chosen instead to attend a conference on Altair Three on gravitational physics.
Your sight was darkening at the point that you remembered stepping out of the turbolift into the warmth of human welcome when humankind was facing the peril of V’Ger. You had carried Gol with you like a shield, like an empty water container which has leaked its contents but which was the only talisman left when the water has gone. You had held on to it tight, your fingers aching with the effort.
And then the last thing you thought, illogically, was nothing at all.
He had promised Spock thirty minutes and he was determined to wait that long. He knew Spock would be aware to several decimal places if he allowed Spock less time on his own than he had agreed before he beamed down and it seemed to him that this agreement, this manifestation of trust was more important than his own unarticulated sense of unease.
He distracted himself by playing back Spock’s words.
It did not seem to me illogical to harness Vulcan wisdom to assist in human endeavour… I went to Gol in the belief that I would return more fully conversant with myself. And behind them, Spock’s unspoken challenge about those sterile, empty years at HQ.
He had never thought that he would return from being Chief of Ops more fully conversant with himself. Truth was, he had hardly hoped to return at all. Could he blame Spock for the choices the Vulcan had made, given what he had thrown away – so nearly lost forever? Could he really argue that it was any more illogical to harness Vulcan wisdom to assist in human endeavour, even if it meant sitting in the sand emptying your brain for three years, than it was to go and sit behind a desk in Starfleet Command, to look at performance reports, efficiency ratings and management strategies, when what he had actually wanted was to jump down the steps from turbo lift to bridge, deliberately missing the middle step on the way, landing on the balls of his feet, turning with a sweeping glance which took in his crew, the main viewer, the total sum of the biology of his ship and then to sit, all in one organic movement which was engrained in the molecules of his physiology, in the command chair which felt like an extension of himself?
He had missed it every minute of every hour of every day. Like an emptiness, like a physical gap, like the knowledge of being in the wrong place, being the wrong person.
What had he and Spock each added, from their respective years of exile, to the sum of knowledge, human or Vulcan?
Of course, redemption had come, not once but twice. Years before Mount Seleya, he had looked into Nogura’s face and won his ship back, followed a stubborn hunch for the first time since he had accepted promotion, having almost forgotten how to believe in his own gut, how to marshal Spock’s random factors. And Spock had walked out of the turbo lift on his own return home, with his Gol face, and that was when he had known that he had been right. He had remembered even then, even before this simple feeling, even at the point of being at war with Decker and with no apparent route to get to V’Ger at all – he had remembered then that when he had followed his hunches, Spock had always raised an eyebrow, had always quoted the odds against success but had always been there, and that it had always been all right.
He realised, then, perhaps in a way he had failed to do before, that the same stubborn strength which had taken Spock to Gol had taken him into the engineering room of the Enterprise in the Mutara sector. The ability to choose a path and stick to it without being deterred by extraneous considerations, whether those circumstances included the warmth of friendship, the challenge of humanity, the pattern of evening chess games – or whether, in fact, they included life itself. Was that the same as following your hunches? Kirk had often wondered whether he would have walked into the engineering room, whether he would have made Spock’s choice. Not whether he would have given anything – everything – to have saved his ship, but whether he would have thought of it in that way – whether instead he would have set his mind to walk through every logical option and end up with his hands burning in the mains engine, or whether at the point that Khan had triggered the Genesis effect to blow the Reliant and the sector into rainbow smithereens he would still have been trying to re-programme the simulator for the Kobayashi Maru, looking for a solution which saved everyone and not for the answer which Spock had found.
What was it he had said to David? I know nothing. I tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. But David was dead on Genesis now. Spock, with his vision and strength tempered by the winds and heat of Gol, had managed to save the people he had loved. Kirk had not, not always.
Or perhaps his hunches and Spock’s single-minded stubbornness were just the translations that they each brought, Vulcan to human, human to Vulcan.
He came out of his reverie to the sound of the communicator crackling into life, and he realised, moving to his feet, that he had spent a whole thirty minutes walking the corridors of Starfleet Command and the decks of the Enterprise, before he understood that he hadn’t at all, that it was less than ten minutes since Spock had left and that the voice coming through to the main cabin of the Polaris was Romulan, not Vulcan. And then, for the briefest of instants, in a moment of utter confusion before the shock of understanding, he thought perhaps he was still there, still on the bridge of the Enterprise, listening with dawning horror to McCoy’s impossible attempt to tell him what had happened, as Marillus’ gravelly voice said,
“Kirk, you had better get down here fast.”
Those words again.
I've decided that the answer to more frequent updating is shorter chapters...
As the dazzle cleared around him, he thought in a brief moment of disorientation that he was alone, that Marillus had given him the wrong coordinates or that a transporter malfunction had put him in the wrong place, at the wrong time, when he was needed elsewhere – a starship captain, one of his officers down and hurt. Or that he finally had the answer which had teased Spock and him since leaving Earth – whose side was Marillus on? – that it was a trick, that Marillus had deliberately diverted him with the brusque delivery of those words which could have been guaranteed to make Kirk go pretty much anywhere, anytime, without pausing to breathe,
Spock is badly hurt. I’m afraid you don’t have much time.
It was only the most fleeting of moments. He had beamed into a large hallway in some sort of complex. His eye was caught and held by two figures to one side, one crouching and one lying against a wall. The space around him had a sense of recent emptiness, of spent energy, not just because of what he knew must have happened, but because of a mark on the floor, a low bench kicked to one side. But he had no time to waste on thinking any of this through.
The crouching silhouette – Marillus, it must be – was lowering his hands, as though they had just left the head of his companion. He let them fall to his lap, then straightened and took a step back at Kirk’s approach, without even turning, as though out of respect for the moment. Kirk barely took any of this in. His whole being was focused on the body at Marillus’ feet, lying against the wall.
Spock was still breathing. Kirk’s expertise in Spock’s well-being had been hard won through a thousand shared shore leaves, a thousand shared workouts and a thousand ventures into hand-to-hand combat, the Vulcan at his shoulder. He could detect with barely a glance how wounded the Vulcan was, how ill, how much effort was being expended to maintain the charade of fit for duty. So he could tell now at an instant that his First was still alive. It did nothing to quell the hollow feeling which had been pressing insistently just under his rib cage, ever since Marillus had spoken to him on the Polaris.
He was back on Genesis, his Enterprise still burning in the sky, fires and death all around him, and at his feet, the extraordinary redemption of Spock, lying in the fallen leaves of a falling planet. Then, as now, he remembered thinking immediately – He’s alive. But then, as now, the thing which should have been of overwhelming importance – Spock’s continued existence – was overshadowed entirely by the emptiness in his face.
Kirk always thought that it was playing chess which had first taught him how to read Spock’s face. Something about studying the Vulcan features intently for the foothold which would help Kirk to understand whether his bishop or queen were more likely to be imperilled; something about trading glance for glance in an attempt to persuade his opponent that moving his knight up there behind Spock’s king was an innocent thing, born of a whim, less a deadly intent to level the score at three-all, more a blithe decoy for what was going on over on the other side of the board with the rook and the queen – something about all that had made it blindingly obvious, away from the chessboard, if Spock were worried, interested, disapproving, amused or content. Which, in turn, as the months turned to years and the early days of knowing the Vulcan had become buried in their subsequent history together, had made it difficult to understand how others found Spock hard to read.
And here was the proof. No one who had seen Spock on Genesis, or subsequently on the Vulcan bird of prey en route to Mount Seleya – or sprawled, now, at Kirk’s feet, in an empty hallway on the Romulan homeworld – no one would have thought that Spock’s face on the bridge of the Enterprise had ever been expressionless.
Because there was nothing in the familiar features now at all. Just an absence of things.
Kirk dropped to a crouch, partly to let gravity own him for a brief minute, to gather strength for what lay ahead, partly to reach out in what he already knew was an empty gesture, more for himself than for the Vulcan, more a salute for the moment than an attempt to communicate. He put a hand on the still shoulder but found no words. And then he straightened, pulling responsibility back on to his shoulders, and turned to the Romulan beside him.
“Captain Kirk.” There was a sense in the voice of waiting, as though the formalities were just a bridge between Kirk’s abrupt materialisation on the planet surface (rather less than forty six seconds after Marillus’ call from the hallway to the Polaris) and the explanation to come as to how Kirk’s First Officer, closest friend and the foremost Vulcan in Starfleet had beamed down from the shuttle at Marillus’ behest and ended up sprawled on a dusty floor with empty eyes.
The Romulan shrugged.
“We were intercepted. One of us has not been as careful as we thought, Captain. Between our conversation and Commander Spock’s arrival, the Praetorian Guard arrived. He didn’t stand a chance.”
Kirk closed his eyes, briefly, then opened them again, focusing on Marillus’ words and not the pictures he refused to let them conjure.
“He is still alive. I need to get him to the shuttle.”
“You must take me with you.”
Kirk, hand already half way to his communicator, stopped dead. Running a mission while Spock’s life hung in the balance was a familiar dynamic. In Gamma Seven-A system, McCoy had wanted to talk about Spock, alone and incommunicado in a one-man shuttle with decreased life-support, wanted to speculate about his survival, and Kirk had said curtly, He knew the odds when he went out there, could not entertain the distraction, had focused instead on the need to save his ship – found the solution to the giant single-celled organism and broken the Enterprise free. This hadn’t stopped him, at the point of maximum stress, of throwing a tractor beam to the shuttle, without knowing if it would work and despite the incursion onto the slimmest margin of available time. Nor had it stopped him breaking into the staggering relief of Spock, you’re alive! which had been less starship captain and more the fact of remembering that he was very tired and that his hunch had once more paid off and that on this occasion the personal odds had been particularly steep.
Spock had said, only hours earlier, on the Polaris, that he had gone to Gol to learn better discipline. You have reminded me of broken orders, of illogical decisions, of unprofessional evaluations… Would that not have led to greater dangers, in the future?
Not true and not fair, old friend, he said silently now to the figure with empty eyes. There had never been any question of putting each other in front of the mission. In front of anything else, in front of personal safety, but not in front of duty, of the ship, of the safety of all hands. Spock would not have thanked him for it. It was about integrity, it was about who they are, it was about ultimate trust.
The truth was that your long-term chess opponent could be sitting in a shuttle out of contact with the odds stacked against return and you still had to protect your ship.
And he could be lying on the floor with empty eyes with McCoy waiting on a shielded shuttle and a Romulan you had travelled across the galaxy to see could say something which would stop you in your tracks.
“Why?” he said. “Why must I take you with me?”
They had never decided, he and Spock, whose side Marillus was on. He remembered, in unconscious echo of Spock, a name on a stone monument on lonely frontier world. And now the Romulan was saying, You must take me with you. An enemy alien to a shuttle built for three, behind enemy lines, with his closest source of support beyond reach. And too many unanswered questions. Who was Marillus? Where was Colton? Who had called the Praetorian Guard? And where were the Romulan soldiers now, whilst he and Marillus spoke quietly, without urgency, over Spock’s lifeless body.
And Marillus said, simply,
“I am the keeper of his katra.”
It is the Vulcan way, when the body’s end is near.
“So how about you tell me what this is all about?” hissed McCoy. “Don’t do that Thank you, Doctor, I’m a starship captain and I know what I’m doing thing. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re a hell of a lot further into Romulan space than we’re supposed to be, the locals seem to have taken an even more marked dislike to your First Officer than is normally reasonable to expect and now we have an unexpected enemy alien up here on a shuttle made for three. Which, if you ask me (which no one has) was frankly a lot more than cosy when it was just the three of us and if the team who built it had thought less about saving on dilithium crystals and more about a decent minimum in terms of proper space and equipment, I might have a functioning sickbay on board.”
Kirk disregarded all of this and said,
“What can you do for Spock?”
McCoy’s shoulder slumped slightly and he shrugged, the battle stance seeping away.
“I don’t know, Jim. I have him rigged up to the shuttle’s life support system. So long as we keep him hooked on to that, so far as I can tell, he’s in no immediate danger. He’s suffered huge internal trauma, which seems to have been carried out with real precision.”
“Meaning this wasn’t a street brawl. They knew where to hit him and how to inflict maximum damage with minimum unnecessary effort. My guess is whoever did it knew a fair amount about Vulcan physiology. Normally, if I know Spock, he’d be going into a healing trance right now.”
“But he’s not?”
“No. That’s why I rigged up the life support connection. There’s no brain activity at all. Almost all the trauma was direct to the cerebral cortex. Jim – he may be permanently brain dead. I’m sorry.”
He let McCoy’s words wash over him without immediately replying, then lifted his hand and ran it through his hair in a gesture which somehow both accepted the blow and summoned energy to fight back. They were talking in low voices by the viewer in the main cabin, having put Spock in one of the two cabins and Marillus in the other. McCoy had taken one look at Spock when they had materialised and, other than a sharp glance at Marillus, had, with Kirk’s help, carried the unconscious Vulcan to one of the berths and then busied himself there whilst Kirk and Marillus had spoken in the main cabin.
Yes, Marillus had confirmed, Colton was dead. No, there was no evidence of his identity being discovered but the attack on Spock suggested that Romulan High Command were aware of the spy ring. Yes, Marillus had ensured that all relevant material had been destroyed and other agents alerted. Yes, Colton’s body had been appropriate disposed of. No, Marillus could not be certain of a connection between the surveillance work and Colton’s death – he had been killed by an unlucky blow in a random street fight not of his making and Marillus had not known his opponent.
All the while, Kirk was scanning Marillus’ face and his expressions for evidence. That question which he and Spock had never answered – which side was Marillus on? He asked, as Marillus finished talking about Colton,
“Why did you tell Spock to beam down without me?”
Without missing a beat, Marillus said,
“Is it not normal procedure? You were his commanding officer. I could not be sure there would not be danger. It was his role to go first and secure a safe environment.”
“It was not his role to die for no good reason.”
“I had no way of knowing that, Captain. When we spoke, I was unaware of any discovery of our communications. Spock materialised into the midst of a party of Guards. He had no chance and it was over very quickly. When I arrived, he was at the last ebb of consciousness. I was barely in time.”
Barely in time – to receive the katra. The words sat between them, unspoken. Marillus said, sounding, for the first time, sincere, open,
“Captain, I know this is very difficult for you. I may appear unfeeling and entirely in command of the situation but in fact I have never received a katra before. It is a little overwhelming and I need to rest.”
And so Kirk had taken him to the other berth, and left him lying down, and here he was with McCoy, sitting in the main cabin while the shuttle hung in orbit with its strange complement of crew.
How to begin to tell McCoy? And that was when he remembered Sarek’s words, from the day he had come to Kirk’s apartment before he had gone to Harry Morrow, before he had stolen his ship and gone back to Genesis. Before it had all started. It seemed like years ago.
It is the Vulcan way, when the body’s end is near.
What else had it been, that Sarek had said, before that? I had assumed he had bonded with you. Sarek had assumed that if anyone had held Spock’s katra, it would be Kirk. It had not been, though, it had been McCoy. And now it was Marillus.
For the first time, he wondered idly, why Sarek had assumed that he would have been the keeper of the katra. What was it that Spock’s father had said? I have been to your Government. I have seen the Genesis information, and your own report. Yes, he had. Kirk had since had a rather wry description from both Morrow and Wesley of what it felt like to be on the receiving end of the scrutiny by a Vulcan ambassador of the circumstances of the death of his only son. Wesley had said, “Think of yourself as a five year old kid, Jim, and you’ve lost the only copy of Einstein’s theory of relativity because you mistook it for a bag of lemon sherbets. And Einstein knows that even though you’re basically illiterate and haven’t learnt your two times table yet, talking to you is the only way he’s going to get his equation back and worse, he’s not even allowed to let on that he thinks you should be put to bed without any meals for a week, and you can see that it’s killing him.”
Yes, Sarek had known perfectly well that Spock had been inside the reactor room and Kirk had been outside. How not? It was the essence of the entire situation. Kirk had sat on the bridge and watched his ship inch painfully away from the Reliant like a wounded snail trying outrun the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, and Spock had drawn on a pair of protective gloves which hadn’t protected him and walked into the certain death of the Enterprise’s main reactor room. And McCoy had called the bridge and said Jim, I think you’d better get down here, and Kirk had taken one look at Spock’s empty chair and gone through his ship like a wind, like an arrow, like someone with only one thing on his mind and in his eyes from bridge to engineering, and been in time to hold his hand to a glass panel and meet his friend’s last, blind gaze, but it had made no difference. For the first time in his life, he had been too late. Spock had passed the Kobayashi Maru test with flying colours and Kirk had failed it. Spock had died of radiation burns and Kirk had not.
So why had Sarek been so damn sure that Kirk had been the keeper of Spock’s katra? So sure that he had walked into Kirk’s apartment and melded with Kirk with scarcely the courtesy of a request and certainly without forewarning Kirk that Sarek was taking him straight back to the reactor room, straight back to the worst goodbye of Kirk’s life.
He knew all along, he must have, he thought, suddenly. Sarek had always known that Kirk had been outside the reactor room. He should have gone after McCoy from the start. But he hadn’t. Because in a state which would have been grief-stricken had he not been Vulcan, he had simply been going on the sheer, blind assumption that Spock would have left his katra with Kirk.
He remembered Sarek’s uncompromising severity the first time they had ever met, en route to Babel. In fact, he could remember Sarek’s uncompromising severity pretty much every time they had encountered each other. It hadn’t happened very often and the detection of any variations in Sarek’s manner would have needed the deployment of a dilithium-powered microscope. In fact, he remembered only one variation, and it had not been a positive one. They had met at a conference, during the last months of the five year mission, and Kirk had (rather unforgivably) been describing to Amanda their venture on Sigma Iotia Two less as an attempt to bring law and order to a violent, contaminated society and more as a driving lesson given by him to Spock. Whilst he had been speaking Spock had looked at his CO in a rather fixed manner which (had he known it) gave rather more away than had he simply pointed out the inaccuracies in the account. Amanda had put her hand on Kirk’s arm at the end and said, impulsively, “I’m so glad you are friends, Captain” and Sarek had said, in the sort of tone which would have cooled a prehistoric glacier “My wife, you embarrass our companions by imputing inappropriate sentiment into a professional relationship” and Kirk, without the benefit of a dilithium-powered microscope but with, instead, a years-deep experience of the features of his chess opponent (which came to the same thing), had seen Spock flinch in a way that perhaps no other person would have detected.
Perhaps that was wrong. Perhaps Amanda had seen it. And perhaps, Kirk thought, coming back to the nub of the matter, perhaps Sarek had seen it. Perhaps he had always known.
He had certainly known by the time they had met in the Council chamber and the Council had exonerated Kirk and given him his ship back.
Your associates are people of good character.
They are my friends.
Yes, of course.
But actually, Kirk thought, memory stirring, he had known earlier. The dust and heat of Mount Seleya. Spock, robed in white and hesitating as he followed Sarek into the slow heat of the Vulcan dawn, turning and coming back to Kirk. And Kirk had waited, almost motionless, doing and saying nothing because he didn’t know what to do or say - or, crucially what to expect. Holding his breath in case there were, after all, happy endings. And Spock’s first words, which had been,
My father says that you have been my friend.
Yes, Sarek had always known.
Sarek had expected him to be the keeper of the katra but he hadn’t been, then or now. Instead, it had been McCoy and now Marillus. Spock had left his katra with McCoy and they had travelled half way across the galaxy at terrible risk and worse cost and brought Spock back to an uncertain reunion on Mount Seleya and then a journey to San Francisco at even higher odds followed by six weeks on the Polaris of painstaking rebuilding.
And now this. Would the Masters even attempt it twice? It had never been done before, they had said, not in living memory. What you seek is not logical… And even if they could – Kirk’s heart sank – he knew now the person who would emerge from the dust of Mount Seleya, the effort it would take to reach out and reconnect with the memories of their shared past.
He shook himself. It was a difficult task but he had faced worse and it was what he had signed up for and what he must do and that was why he was a starship captain and why he had earned the right to be Spock’s friend. That was all.
First, he had to get them all back home. Somehow.
OK, it's very short and it's a cliff-hanger and you all saw it coming, but it's Christmas, so I thought I'd post as a thank you present to everyone who is bothering to read this story. Hope you are having a wonderful day.
“It’s not that Spock’s brain-dead, Bones,” he said, gently, “it’s that he was very near death and so he – uh – carried out a mind meld and transferred his katra into safe-keeping.”
There was an infinitesimal pause and McCoy said, flatly,
“You’re kidding. Right?”
“I,” said Kirk with feeling, “am not kidding. No. Not about this.”
“You’re telling me, then,” the doctor said, in indescribable tones, “that your First Officer, faced with imminent death, decides to carry out a mind-meld with me – without asking any sort of permission, by the way, which frankly goes against what I thought was the Vulcan code of conduct – and leaves me stuck with his brains scrambled into mine for weeks, to the extent of being incarcerated by the least able bunch of military medics I’ve ever had the misfortune to call colleagues and who (incidentally) know about as much about mental health as Spock knows about mint juleps – and then I get kidnapped by you lot and taken halfway across the galaxy in a ship which frankly can’t fly in a straight line, get fired at by a bunch of renegade Klingons and then, to top it all, go through a Vulcan ritual which hasn’t been dusted off since before the Middle Ages without so much as a control test or medical protocol in sight and no guarantee of emerging alive or with my brains intact. After which I have to spend a couple of missions locked up with your First Officer after he’s reverted right back to the sort of computer-speak which used to drive me nuts right at the start of the five year mission before I started teaching him to speak Standard. And you tell me – you tell me that at the first hint of trouble, he’s just dumped the thing all over again. I mean – is this the new tactic? Is this some sort of routine he’s getting into, when things get rough, or is it a sign that he’s getting even more detached from his brain than he used to be? Only bright spot is that this time, thank God, I’m not good enough so he’s given it to you. Which is a definite silver lining. Because, got to tell you Jim and I haven’t had the opportunity before, I’m a doctor, not a Vulcan Master, and I’m just not up for playing musical chairs with people’s brains when they should be in their own skulls.”
“Spock’s katra,” said Kirk, without giving any sign that he had heard ninety nine percent of McCoy’s diatribe, “was given to Marillus, not to me.”
There was an abrupt silence. The Georgian tone was very different, quieter and less strident, as McCoy said,
“So that’s why he got an invitation to the party. What does that mean, then, Jim? Whose side is he on? Why would Spock have chosen him?”
Why, indeed? Why Marillus and not Kirk? Because he was there, of course. Spock must have known, though, a small voice inside Kirk’s head said, Spock must have known that Kirk would have been on his way. But he didn’t wait. Was Marillus, for any reason, a better choice? For being Romulan? For not being human? For not having (and Kirk came face to face, in his thoughts, for the first time to a question no less insistent for being unvocalised) – not having the enduring and unquantifiable bond of which Spock and he had spoken, sitting in the Polaris whilst McCoy was sleeping, summoning the ghosts of Janice Lester, of the Tholians…… Had that somehow disqualified Kirk?
Or was it just that, as in the engineering room of the Enterprise, Kirk had been too late?
“Because he was there, Doctor,” he said to McCoy now.
“And your plan is - what? Don’t tell me you’re taking them both back to Mount Seleya? The Vulcans will never go for it a second time, Jim. And in any event, we’ll never make it that far.”
“Perhaps not,” Kirk said. “But we have to try.”
He turned to the main console and punched in coordinates at the navigation panel. It had been a while. Truth was that he had become far too dependent on Spock, and before that on Chekhov, on Sulu, for the day-to-day business of running a ship. It was down now to him to take a shuttlecraft with an injured Vulcan, an alien spy with the said Vulcan’s consciousness and the Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise back to Earth – via Mount Seleya, of course. He could do this, couldn’t he? None of the other three passengers on the Polaris, for a range of very different reasons, was going to be of much help to him. But he had carried out far more complicated missions against worse odds. It would be good for him. He would rely on his own, hard-won knowledge of piloting a spacecraft, use his eyes and his hands instead of giving orders, would take home his ship and his friends.
He disengaged thrusters and looked up at the main viewer as they left orbit. Which was why he realised immediately that nothing had happened.
He increased power and the shuttle shuddered slightly, as though rousing itself to move away from the embrace of the planet’s orbit, but nothing happened, save for the main cabin lights flickering and then McCoy said, sharply,
“Look, Jim”” and pointed to a red display to the right of the console. The panel read Warning: Vessel uncloaking. Kirk released power immediately. The shuttle’s orbit path resumed, smoothly, the lights came back on and the warning display went dark.
As adrenalin receded, Kirk sat back and looked at the doctor.
“Are you going to tell me,” McCoy asked slowly, “what that was about?”
Kirk was silent. The truth was that McCoy’s question was rhetorical and both of them knew very well what had happened. He was back in his apartment in San Francisco, listening to Bob Wesley.
“How have they managed to generate sufficient power to cloak for that period of time?”
“By sacrificing space. That’s the drawback. It’s only big enough for three people.”
Not such a straightforward mission after all. At least, it might well be possible to get the shuttle back to Earth. The journey to Romulus had been more noteworthy for the inner challenges it had presented to him and Spock than to any particular external difficulties. The Polaris had taken them with barely an incident through the heart of enemy space, far beyond the reach of Starfleet, on a journey which they would never have survived for twenty four hours, fully visible. The shuttle had lived up to Wesley’s promise. The only difficulty now would be to decide which of the four passengers should stay behind.
“There must be something you can do, Jim. What sort of shuttle is this, anyway? We’re a sitting duck, here, and whoever was responsible for the inventory on board knew as much about medicine as Sarek does about the girls who run the Grand Casino on Rigel III. You’ve got to get Spock out of Romulan space, and as soon as possible.”
Kirk was studying console readings at lightning speed. Then he moved to the back of the cabin to check the dilithium crystal levels and came back, slowly, with the air of a man who is giving a party and who had known all along that there was only a single half-empty bottle in the cupboard but who had made himself check what he already knew.
“The shuttle is very finely calibrated, Bones,” he said, in measured tones. “It was designed to stay cloaked whilst carrying a maximum of three people. Everything about the layout and structure has the objective of minimising additional causes of power drain. We have not only added a fourth person, but one of us is on life support. We have sufficient power to move or to stay cloaked, but not both.”
“In that case,” McCoy said, leaning back and crossing his arms expectantly, “now would be a good time for you to have one of your bright ideas. If possible, one of the kind that doesn’t involve Klingons, Romulans, theft, kidnap, incarceration and subsequent court martial.”
“I hate to disappoint, Doctor,” he said drily.
“What do you mean, disappoint? Are you a starship captain or aren’t you?”
“I’m a starship captain without a starship. We can’t get home on this shuttle and no Federation ship can come after us this far; they can’t even know we are here – this mission is classified. We either sit on the planet or wait or…” His voice tailed off.
“Or what?” McCoy said quickly.
“Or,” said Kirk, levelly, “we take the Polaris back to Earth.”
“I thought you said she couldn’t take all four of us back.”
“That,” Kirk said, “is exactly what I said.”
McCoy shot a look at him.
“What are you suggesting, Jim? Leaving someone behind?”
“It would appear,” he said, with an attempt at lightness, “the logical thing to do, would it not?”
There was a pause during which Kirk braced himself for a Georgian backlash which never came. He looked sideways at the doctor who, judging from the stricken look on his face, was coming to the same conclusion as he was.
The natural inclination of James T Kirk was to beam down to the planet and look after his own fortunes, whilst ensuring his three shipmates had safe passage home. To take a phaser and a communicator, to shoot and run and trick his way out, to blaze a trail of seduction or destruction over a quadrant and to make sure he was always somewhere else by the time the locals had cottoned on to the identity of the agent of havoc in their midst.
But not this time. He could not leave McCoy to pilot the Polaris back to Earth with an unconscious Vulcan and an enemy alien. McCoy had taken the standard basic pilot training incumbent on all military medics, and he would have taken the mandatory annual refresher, as well, but the fact remained that he had never piloted a shuttle outside the Academy training base and putting him in charge of taking a cloaked shuttle on a six week journey across the quadrant would be a death sentence for them all. Spock was piloting nothing. And Marillus? Marillus was still an unknown quantity with too many unanswered questions, a name on a stone monument on a frontier world and a call for Spock to beam down alone which had led so soon afterwards to the Vulcan’s fatal ambush by the Praetorian Guard. No, he would not be leaving the shuttle for Marillus to command.
That meant the only credible candidate to fly the Polaris home was Kirk himself, and he knew it.
As for McCoy, quite apart from the doctor’s chances of survival… Kirk spared a thought for the Romulans on the planet below and wondered, briefly, who might come off worse in a battle of words. Romulan ferocity against the Georgian humanity that never cowed as easily as you thought it was going to. But it wouldn’t be words, of course, and McCoy would be essentially defenceless.
In any event, he was needed on the shuttle. There would be little point in giving one of the three precious places on the Polaris to an injured crew member on life support and leaving the ship’s surgeon behind.
Which left only one question.
Which of Spock and Marillus was coming with them?
Kirk was on a mission with orders from the highest level of Starfleet Command. He had no need to cast his mind back to the Council Chamber to remember the charge levied by the President “…Disobeying direct orders of the Starfleet Commander.” He was supposed to come out here, find out from Marillus what had happened to Colton and make sure no traces were left of the original espionage activities. He was pretty sure that picking up a renegade Romulan and then putting him down again, in such a way as to justifiably incur his enmity and leaving him vulnerable to capture and questioning by the Romulan High Command – he was pretty sure that this would not constitute obeying orders, especially when Starfleet found out the reason for doing so. He would be demoted again. Next time he and Harry Morrow had a drink in the bar at HQ, he would be waiting at table.
He had a vision, suddenly, of a revisitation of that excruciating conversation. He had tried the personal angle then (I’m talking about loyalty and sacrifice) in the hope that he could avoid the sticky subject of ancient desert winds, people’s brains in other people’s heads and the reunion of body and soul. That hadn’t worked, so he had come out with it. If there’s even a chance that Spock has an eternal soul, it’s my responsibility. Which had eventually led to the unmistakable message of Keep up this emotional behaviour and you’ll lose everything. Even at the time, he had managed an inner smile, thinking of Spock’s likely reaction.
But now? He imagined putting in a call to Morrow from the Polaris, once they were out of Romulan space.
Sir, we are en route to Earth... No, we do not have Legate Marillus with us. There was insufficient room on the ship…. Yes, all three original crew are on board… Thank you, McCoy and I are fine, but Spock is on life support... I appreciate that you think choosing Spock over Marillus under those circumstances was an unusual decision, but I am hoping that I can leave him with the Vulcan Masters and retrieve the Legate and bring him to Vulcan… Yes, sir, I realise that would be difficult, but the Legate is currently in charge of Spock’s eternal soul… Harry, I think you should be more open-minded about Vulcan mysticism… No, I don’t think that his brain gets damaged every time this happens… No, I don’t think my brain does, either… No, I don’t think he is making a habit of it… No, I don’t think it’s infectious… No. I have absolutely no idea if the Vulcan Masters will do it again.
Or the other way round. Could he really ask Morrow, again, for permission to go back for Spock’s body? It was out of the question. Permission – and, more importantly, the Polaris – would never be given and Spock would never survive on his own, in any case. There would be no one to come back for.
Which meant that, in effect, Kirk had to choose between saving Spock’s body and saving his mind.
He remembered the mind-meld with Sarek, understanding what Sarek had expected to find. Not Spock himself, but a katra which would be placed with the Vulcan Masters, inaccessible to others but living on within the Vulcan heritage at Gol. He would lose his friend, but Spock himself would not be lost. It was the only real choice.
Could he do it, though? Could he really leave the Vulcan behind? He stood up, without further words, and started over towards the cabin where Spock lay, with no clear purpose beyond a last goodbye, a salute to a face he knew, in many ways, better than his own. As he did so, the other door open, and Marillus stood there. His fatigue was clearly gone, and the expression fixed on Kirk was entirely different from the gaze he had encountered earlier.
“So. You’ve made your decision, Captain.”
At the alert question in the movement of Kirk’s head, he smiled.
“Oh yes. I know exactly what you’ve been working out. You’ve been dividing three seats among four and, shall we say, struggling with the mathematics? I particularly didn’t want to miss this bit. I wanted to watch. I have been waiting for this a long time.”
Kirk said, slowly,
“You wanted this. You’ve been working towards it.”
“It’s taken you some time, Captain, but you’ve worked it out.”
“To bring us here, to take Spock’s katra – all for this? Why? I want to know why.”
The smile dropped from Marillus’ face and his eyes blazed into an old hatred.
“The only reason, Captain Kirk. Revenge. It’s always revenge. Don’t you even remember?”
Should I be angry? Kirk wondered. This imposing figure, dressed in Romulan military uniform, head thrown back, curved ear and curved nose at a disdainful angle, eyes blazing with hatred. This being had brought him with Spock and McCoy across the quadrant on a voyage of discovery which should have been a new beginning and which instead had brought Spock a new end. All for nothing – all those conversations, shared memories, re-awakenings, all so that the genius and uniqueness that was Spock of Vulcan could lie in the dust of the Romulan home world. The friendship which had given meaning to Kirk’s command, to his career, now motionless behind a cabin door.
Instead, he felt an odd mixture of alert and weary. Alert because the starship captain was kicking in – the search for the opponent’s weak point, the hunt for the way out, the knowledge that there always was one. Weary – because didn’t it always come down to this? When would the universe grow out of revenge? Khan – and before him Janice Lester, Ben Finney; Tyree, Nona and Apella – a line of faces consumed by hatred and the driving need for a calling to account for past wrongs. Chief Vanderberg’s face on Janus 6, in pursuit of the Horta. Plasus and Vanna on Ardana. Bele and Lokai, the ultimate tragedy of revenge. (Spock had said, All that matters to them is their hate, and Uhura had wondered if that was all they had ever had, and he himself had spoken their epithet, No, but that’s all they have left.) And he was no better. It was he who had pursued the Gorn at warp factor eight from Cestus Three until he had learned his lesson, courtesy of Spock and of the Metrons. When he thought about it, Spock had always been the advocate for peace, the antidote for revenge. Which made the current situation somewhat ironic.
What past ventures meant that this was all Marillus had left – a Federation shuttle and Spock’s katra in his head and an enterprise which would surely end his life on Romulus if not his life everywhere?
He said, very carefully,
“Indulge me, Legate. What have I forgotten?”
“My father,” Marillus said, in a flat tone which came as an odd anti-climax. “You have forgotten my father.”
Of course. Another father, another son. His own loss too raw, too bitter, he laid aside to focus on Spock, on the life he might – just – possibly yet be able to save.
“Tell me,” he said, looking straight into the cold face, “about your father.”
“He was coming home.” A small crack in time, through which a Romulan youth (how quickly did Romulans age, anyway?) was still waiting, where a door had never opened on to the right face, a waiting that lasted forever. Was that what Marillus was doing, still waiting?
And then the face tautened again.
“And you were disobeying orders, Captain Kirk. I’ve naturally made a study of your career and I understand it’s something of a habit of yours, breaking orders. Not that Starfleet Command appear to take it as seriously as might have been expected, but they, too, like to say one thing and mean another, for all their vaunted rule of law. They hold to the law when they want to, and when they don’t, “mitigating circumstances” offer a way out.”
He wasn’t really in a position to disagree. Any more than he was in a position to understand. Truth was, he hadn’t really understood a word the Romulan had said, beyond the reference to his own recent demotion, but he hoped that if he kept locking eyes with Marillus, kept listening – aware, the whole time, of McCoy in the corner, still as a statue (please God, don’t let Bones say anything, make him understand this is not the time for a Grade A rant) – if he kept listening, he would be given a clue, see a foothold, somewhere.
“You were under orders. You were to consider your ship expendable. No act, no provocation was to be considered sufficient to violate the treaty. You fired on a Romulan ship and you entered the Neutral Zone. Do you deny it?”
Long buried memory was beginning to stir in Kirk. He grasped at it, at images – a wedding on board the Enterprise. A sense of silent waiting, silent pursuit. Debris scattered in space.
And then he had it.
“The bird of prey. The Neutral Zone. Earth outposts two and four.” He thought, painfully, that Spock would have supplied the stardate. He buried the thought. He would not allow himself that sort of thinking, when he had to use everything he had to find a way out for both of them. “Is that what this is all about? It was a lifetime ago.”
“Yes. His lifetime. All that he was, gone, and all that he should have been, gone. All that he would have achieved from then till now, gone. You took it from him. Captain James T Kirk. You respect no boundaries, no treaties, Captain. Neutral Zone, Romulus, the Klingon Empire, interstellar law – none of it means anything to you, does it? The treaty had kept the peace a hundred years, till you brought your Enterprise into our space. Everything that has happened since then can be traced back to your treachery.”
McCoy was still holding his peace, and Kirk forced himself to do the same. Marillus’ view of history had interesting lacunae. (Didn’t it? He gave a passing thought to whether James T Kirk deserved his reputation as galactic rule-breaker, blood and war in his wake, and dismissed it. If he were going to question his whole career, this particular moment was not the time to start.) Ignoring most of what the Romulan had said, he asked, levelly,
“Was your father on the bird of prey? If so, you must know…”
“I know,” Marillus hissed through his teeth. “I know absolutely everything that happened, because it was transmitted on encrypted sub-space before they all died. You hunted him down. He was a peace-loving man, my father, did you know that, Kirk? No, you didn’t bother to find out. He was one of the best advocates for dialogue, for collaboration, for partnership. He was a visionary, but also a military man, one who would have brought the Fleet with him had he been Praetor, and they said he would. They said he was the only person with both hope for the future and the strength of the past, and he was going to be the one to unite the homeworld and reach out for new friendships across the quadrant. A new galactic era. Except that instead he met you, and since then it has been blood, and blood and more blood.”
He had the sensation of almost knowing, like you do when a name is on the tip of your tongue, a half-remembered word, a truth waiting to break open.
“Was he the Commander? Was it your father’s ship?”
“Yes,” Marillus said, and it was less the voice of passion, of accusation, and more a tiredness, the sound of having delivered the message he had waited to deliver all these years. “Yes, it was my father’s ship.” And then the energy gathered again. “He was lost to space and we never even had the chance to give him the burial honours he deserved. But I built him a memorial on the planet nearest to the battle and I made sure he was not forgotten. In that part of the sector, his name will never die. He is known as the hope of the last generation, of the defender of peace and of the Neutral Zone. Anyone who ventures into the Zone will know his story and his legacy and those who go to fight the Federation do so in his name. I have made sure of that. He was a great man, the greatest Romulan. But he was also my father. I loved him and you took him away from me. I followed your trail and I knew your story and I stood by my father’s memorial and I made him a vow that I would avenge you.”
He fell silent and Kirk sought words. What would be the right thing to say? He remembered the Commander, now – he should not have forgotten. Regret swept him, briefly. He had had the sense, all the way through that fateful pursuit, of a knowledge of his opponent. They had guessed and second-guessed each other’s thoughts, to the point that he had felt at times more aware of the Romulan than of his own bridge crew, surrounded as he had been by Tomlinson and Martine, the couple getting married, and Stiles, the boy on the bridge who had been carrying his own vendetta, his own hatred, until Spock had saved his life. And then, that final sighting, ship-to-ship, on the main viewer, and that moving acknowledgement from the Commander – I could have called you friend. He had tried to reach out to him, to stop him, but there had been nothing he could do.
No, he should not have forgotten. He had owed him more than that, somehow.
But his son had more than compensated. His son had not forgotten anything.
“Yes. I have treated you as you treated him. You will be hunted down, Captain, in a shielded vessel. You will try to fight and stay invisible to save yourselves and you will try to keep silent and you will hold your very breath in a last attempt to get home with your friends to those you love. And I have visited on you the thing you did to him and I want to watch you now make the same choice.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. What new horror was coming?
“My father also served a hundred campaigns with his comrade-in-arms. You are not the only one, Captain, to know the joy of that brotherhood. My father’s Centurion. He used to come to our house when I was small and teach me to wrestle in the field at the end of our settlement. He was a gentle man who would have died for my father. He died, my father’s Centurion, you killed him and you know what my father did?” He paused, his face working with an old grief. “My father threw his body into space like so much garbage, because he did what he had to do to get home, even though he owed his friend all the fires and honours of the noblest funeral of them all. His body drifts in space, forever. No resting place. My father would have seen that as the worst dishonour; he would never have forgiven himself for that act of betrayal. Of course, he only lived with that knowledge a few hours, Captain, but I have lived with it all my adult life, and I have known that although it happened at my father’s hand, it was your hand behind his and I always knew I would come looking for you.”
He straightened up, as though free of the burden of telling Kirk.
“And now it is time. You have no choice, Captain. Say your goodbyes to your old friend. And then get rid of him, the way my father did.”
Kirk had left McCoy and Marillus in the main cabin and slipped into the cabin where Spock lay before he had quite realised what he was doing. He was not there, beside Spock’s motionless figure, in answer to Marillus’ last gibe, still less in compliance with the Romulan’s order, but simply because the time had come, and he knew it.
Away from McCoy’s silent disapproval (no less apparent for his uncharacteristic lack of words) and the relentless ferocity of Marillus’ glare, he knew that he had been playing for time and it had finally run out. The truth was that there was no case to argue – either logically or emotionally – for keeping Spock’s body on the Polaris, and no question of which came first, the face that Kirk knew better than his own or the fierce intelligence and unrivalled knowledge and understanding which Kirk might never access ever again but which might just somehow live on in the heritage of his people.
Kirk spared a thought, as he eased on to the only chair in the cabin, next to the berth, for what might or might not survive in Spock’s katra. Sarek had said, when he had thought Spock dead on Genesis, Then everything that he was, everything that he knew, is lost. What did that mean? What was in a katra, anyway?
If Spock’s katra was everything he knew, then it was gravitational physics and three-dimensional chess and a hundred different languages and the complete works of Shakespeare. It was also an inherent understanding that the pretence of ignorance of Standard idiom actually constituted a language all of its own, together with an unrivalled knowledge of Starfleet Regulations acquired, Kirk had always believed, with the deliberate purpose of baiting his commanding officer. It was a detailed recollection of the personal details of the senior crew of the Enterprise, an understanding of how to construct a tricorder in the zinc-plated vacuum-tubed culture of 1930s New York and an A-7 computer expert classification. The grace and intuition which wore the IDIC of Vulcan and wore it lightly. Long, green fingers on a harp in the Enterprise rec room.
If, on the other hand, Spock’s katra was everything he was – what did that mean? Did that mean that somewhere in Marillus’ head was the keenest loyalty that had ever graced a starship and the sharpest mind? Did the katra have room for the dry wit that few but Kirk had ever appreciated? He had always found it astounding that even those who knew the Vulcan as well as McCoy had seen him as essentially humourless. Spock could reduce his captain to laughter in a way few others had ever managed. And did the katra feel – would the katra know that its owner had once embraced Kirk in the sickbay of his ship, had (to Kirk’s knowledge) turned down at least three offers of promotion to continue to serve at Kirk’s side, had once taken a ship on impulse power for 59 days in a desperate bid to save Kirk’s life?
Kirk looked at the still face. His heart contracted, and he said silently to the motionless form, “I don’t think so, old friend. You’re going to tell me it doesn’t work like that.” No, it didn’t work like that. Spock had once regained his katra in circumstances Kirk was unlikely to forget, and the person who had emerged had only managed Your name is Jim. The rest had been down to Vulcan powers of rapid learning and dogged conversations over six weeks in a cloaked shuttle for three. That wouldn’t happen, this time. This time, Spock’s consciousness would be handed to the Vulcan Masters like a book returned to an old-fashioned lending library, and the essence of that connection would be broken for ever.
And what would happen to it, to Spock’s katra? Was a katra expected to assimilate? Would it, as part of the Vulcan psyche, like some strange reprisal of his role as Controller of the Eymorg on Sigma Draconis Seven acquire, over time, something of the austerity and sterility of his people’s culture, so that years from now, all vestiges of his friend’s humanity would be lost forever? Or, worse, would it remember, would it retain a ghostly imprint of a joke over chess and brandy, of companionship under fire, of the sound of human laughter - and know that it was beyond reach forever?
And what would happen to him, to Kirk?
Kirk would take the Polaris back to Earth, and go to his debriefing. He might even go to Yosemite, after all; perhaps McCoy might come with him, perhaps he might see if Sulu or Bob Wesley were free. And he would take command of his ship, of his reborn Enterprise, and he would re-embark on a hundred other missions. He would journey to new worlds and new civilisations and he would fight and risk and save and hurt and laugh and survive. But it wouldn’t be the same.
Why was that? Kirk studied the pale face. Other people lost friends. He himself had lost more than he cared to remember. The memorial list was scarred on the debit ledger of the five year mission and other journeys, before and since, headed by the name of his only son.
It wouldn’t be the same because there would always be a slight draft at his shoulder, where a Vulcan might once have stood in immovable silent support; because Kirk’s conversations would no longer be reckoned to six decimal points; because Kirk’s chess set would gather dust in missions when off-duty time would be spent determinedly in card games or shooting hoops.
More importantly, however, it wouldn’t be the same because Kirk himself wouldn’t be the same.
It came to him then, sitting in that silent cabin in a cloaked shuttle in orbit around Romulus, that the person he had been and the path he had forged had been as Spock’s friend and Spock’s commanding officer, and that the journey ahead would belong to a slightly different person.
Marillus had accused him of breaking rules and waging war, and in that crowded moment he had wondered if he should cede the point – moved, as he had been, by his memory of Marillus’ father and their strange connection all those years ago between the stars of the Neutral Zone. The truth was that he had earned his demotion in every sense of the word. There was a part of James T Kirk – a not insignificant part – which had always believed that rules were there to be broken. Oh, not if you happened to agree with them, nor if they were nothing more than mildly inconvenient. But if you happened to be ordered to Altair Six and your best friend’s life was at stake, or if you were on your own, out in the Neutral Zone and Starfleet Command was a million parsecs away; or if you just needed your ship like you needed your own two feet and Starfleet Command decided to decommission it instead and you happened to know that you were right and they were wrong – well, the chain of command inevitably looked rather different in those circumstances.
And the reason that James T Kirk was an intergalactic hero and had not spent the last two decades languishing in a military detention centre was actually the same reason that Spock was the leading Vulcan of his time and not a distinguished but relatively unknown scientist.
What was it about the two of them, born to different races and at different times, that they had found this perfect complementary fit? He only knew that if he had never met Spock, he would never quite have become the person he was – it was as simple as that. He would have been someone different. Not hugely different, but not the same. The two of them had found balance and counter-balance through a hundred missions, so that at some point, Kirk had developed the capacity, even in Spock’s absence, to internalise the Vulcan’s point of view and arrive at the decision the two of them would have crafted together.
Not always, of course, and even in that aching moment of farewell, Kirk found a small, trademark smile as he remembered the times he had completely disregarded the Vulcan’s advice. Spock hadn’t wanted him to pilot the Constellation down the mouth of Matt Decker’s doomsday machine and he’d done it anyway. But then he hadn’t wanted the Vulcan to go hunting Hortas with him, and Spock had still walked those tunnels at his side. They had always known when to let the other win.
And now, an off-kiltre future, in which Spock’s voice would offer a perspective only through Kirk’s own conjecture, like a far distant echo, like a shadow of the past.
His was the foremost military mind of his generation, but he had learned to temper his command and it was Spock who had taught him that. It was Spock who had protested at his pursuit of the Gorn, at the unnecessary destruction of sentient life when he, God help him, had said, We’re the only policemen around, and a crime has been committed. The lesson he’d learned from Spock then had saved all their lives, and it had saved them again when he’d learned it again on the Melkotian planet. He’d been so determined to shoot his way out of town, to avenge Chekhov; it was Spock, always Spock, who had thought of the other way out. Spock had said, after they got back to the ship, in the tone of one examining an interesting prehistoric life form, This afternoon, you wanted to kill, didn’t you? McCoy had protested but he had understood, known it was part of who they were, that constant dialogue to understand the shifting balance and their different needs to attack and defend.
And the Vulcan was no cipher. He had faced his own demons, even when he wasn’t in an altered state. He had been made so angry by Parmen and Philana that he had broken a glass in his hand, admitted to being out of control – and it had been Kirk, that time, who had held Alexander back from the ultimate revenge on their tormentors. Somehow, over the years, they had learned to understand which part they had needed to play to back the other up, to know when it was time to provide balance and ballast. It was Spock who, memorably, had returned to Kirk his ability to command in a turbolift en route to Starbase Four, when the Gorgan was on the ship. He had done it without telepathy and without a mind-meld. He had simply restored the balance by a single word – Jim - and enabled Kirk to use the same equation to defeat the Gorgan, when it had said: You are gentle and that is a grave weakness, and Kirk had answered, We’re also very strong. The Gorgan had responded with Your strength is cancelled by your weakness, but of course Kirk had won the day and saved the children and saved the ship and saved them all because the Gorgan had been wrong and it was exactly that balance of strength and gentleness than he and Spock had brought to each other.
That was when he remembered that it hadn’t been that way, in the Neutral Zone, with Marillus’ father. He’d almost forgotten, but it all came back, now. He’d been alone, without contact from Starfleet Command, in one of the most fraught missions he’d ever undertaken on the Enterprise. A Romulan ship crossing the Neutral Zone, attacking Earth outposts in breach of the treaty, his ship expendable, his men in danger – inter-galactic war on his shoulders, like a dependent, clinging small child who could fall off, any minute, in any direction. And it was Spock who had advocated for action, Spock who had said: Attack. They had known, then, what the Romulans looked like, it was the first time they’d understood that Romulans and Vulcans were kin, and Spock had based his reasoning on the ancient ferocity of his people’s culture. It was the human Kirk who hadn’t been sure; Kirk who had said, uncharacteristically to McCoy – What if I’m wrong?
And what if I’m wrong now? he wondered.
Another memory, and he was suddenly no longer in the Polaris but on the bridge of his ship, that strange, brief time that Sargon and Henoch and Thalassa had spent with them. He thought – yes, of course, it had happened before, the same agonising choice about whether to save Spock’s body when his mind had gone beyond retrieval. Then, there had been no choice, he’d never heard of the word katra, and in any event, the blackened globe which had once held Spock’s consciousness had obliterated hope and he had simply kept going, with single-minded determination to save what was left – his ship. At the moment that Spock had fallen to the floor of the bridge, grief had hit him in the face like a cold tidal wave and he had said, in anguish, If only there had been another way.
What was the other way, here on the Polaris? Was there an answer?
It felt as though the truth were almost within reach, as though he could almost understand, if he stretched just a bit further. He made himself go back to the darkest time of all, the return from Genesis, the warning from Chekhov that the door to Spock’s quarters had been forced, and his discovery of McCoy there, wide-eyed and incoherent, and the feeling all around him not of the doctor but of Spock… Jim. Take me home.
Marillus, standing squarely by Spock’s prone form on Romulus – I am the keeper of the katra. His own dismay, disbelief.
He sat up, suddenly. He could no longer remember the last time it had been his turn to sleep, but none of that mattered now. Every nerve, every muscle was alert to the task, his brain racing as he stared at Spock’s silent, closed face, and then at the life support machine. The readings had not changed since they had beamed up from the planet. There was no activity at all.
His mind was churning. That conversation he had had with Spock, mere days ago, about the Defiant. Other times – waiting doggedly after the Galileo had crashed in Murasaki 312, finding Spock at the last possible moment. Camus Two – Janice Lester, and the swiftness of Spock’s belief – more, his recognition of him. What was the common thread? Could he follow it out of this room?
He leaned forward, very slightly, reached out to touch Spock’s shoulder and left his hand there while he came to his decision.
And then he was on his feet and moving back to the main cabin. McCoy and Marillus were both standing exactly where he had left them. As he entered, both looked up with an air of expectation mixed in McCoy’s case with dread and in Marillus’ case, with triumph.
The Romulan spoke first.
“You have reached your decision, then.”
“I have,” he said, meeting the other’s eyes. “There’s something I want to say, first, though.” He paused, gathering his thoughts, and then went on.
“I do remember your father. I remember him very well. We were of a kind, he and I. We were both trying to get home, and perhaps we met at the wrong time and on the wrong side, perhaps it might have been different if it had happened another way. I’ll never know. I do know he was a man of honour among his people and I know he died well and deserved better.” He looked up, and his voice, which had been coming from a long way away, changed in timbre.
“But his ship attacked two defenceless Earth outposts. Men, women and children were obliterated and we came to the brink of war – war, which would have meant the death of countless billions. You will tell me he was acting under orders and I believe that he was. So was I. We are soldiers all but we are given command, men like me and your father, so that we can do the right thing when we are on our own and it isn’t always about carrying out orders. We carry the weight of our people’s future, sometimes, in our hands, and we are answerable for every loss, responsible for every soul. It is why we rely on our fellow officers for counsel and doubtless why your father did the same with his Centurion. Your father got the wrong advice and he made the wrong choice. That doesn’t mean you are wrong to honour him. It does mean you are wrong to come seeking vengeance on us and on the one person who has stood up for peace for every nation he has ever encountered and in every path he’s ever walked.
“And now get out. I do not want you on my ship.”
Marillus had been listening to Kirk with a growing darkness on his face, but he had not been expecting this, not the small phaser which had appeared in Kirk’s hand. His own hands were empty, his confidence constructed entirely on Kirk’s dilemma over Spock; he had clearly not thought that he needed a phaser as well as a spare Vulcan katra. His eyes narrowed.
“You are reverting to type, Captain – aggression and the weapons of war. Do you not understand what I will take with me if I go?”
“I understand the risk,” Kirk said, steadily, holding both to the phaser and the voices from the past in the cabin. “Bones, transport our guest to the planet surface. Now.”
“And if I do not want to go?” There was an odd note in Marillus’ voice, half threat, half entreaty.
“Then you’ll go anyway. My phaser is set to stun. I have absolutely no preference as to whether you go conscious or not. You might prefer to go with your wits about you, in case there’s a reception party waiting. It’s all the same to me. I just want you off my ship. There is, as you will have noticed, unfortunately only room for three and we are full, I’m afraid, and we have a long journey ahead of us.”
Behind Marillus, McCoy had moved quietly to the transporter controls – either unnoticed or, as Kirk suspected, because Marillus had given up, was no longer interested in anything other than the conversation with Kirk. He said, eyes not wavering from Kirk’s
“Kill me, then.”
And Kirk said,
“No. We do not kill. I did not kill your father and I will not kill you. It is a lesson that I learned from an old friend, a long time ago. Goodbye, Legate.”
The Romulan shimmered, in front of him, into the transporter effect. As he left, he lifted a hand towards Kirk, in a gesture Kirk couldn’t read, and McCoy said,
“I hope to God you know what you’re doing, Jim. What about Spock? And you realise that Marillus is going to tell all his friends about us?”
Kirk had already moved to the console, was punching in commands at lightning speed.
“I don’t think so, Bones. What’s he going to say? That there’s a cloaked shuttle in Romulan space? They won’t be able to see us and they won’t know where to start looking. We’re already on our way.”
The perspective in the main viewer swung, and Kirk said, as though to someone in another room,
“Leaving orbit, ahead impulse power, mark zero one four,” and the pattern of the stars shifted, as the Polaris turned for home.
This one's for Leonard Nimoy
“What is a katra, anyway?” Kirk asked.
They had not spoken since the shuttle had left orbit. With an old skill – his first love, before his cadet mission on a starship changed forever his understanding of the kind of vessel he wanted under his feet – Kirk had piloted the Polaris in a series of random trajectories till they were clear of the Romulan homeworld and the traffic around it, on a course no one out there tracking could have anticipated or calculated. But there appeared to be no one in pursuit.
“What do you mean, Jim? And why did you leave Marillus, anyway? What does that mean for Spock?”
“I mean,” he said, leaning back against the console but not answering the doctor directly, “it’s not a brain, is it?”
“No,” McCoy agreed, immediately. “His brain is still there, just not doing very much.”
“So there’s no physical sign of it – of the katra?”
“I guess not. What are you driving at, Jim?”
He stood up and crossed the room into Spock’s cabin. McCoy followed him, without waiting for instructions. There was barely room for all three of them in the small room. Spock lay exactly as Kirk had left him. McCoy looked a question at his captain.
“What if,” Kirk said, very slowly, “what if Spock still has his katra?”
“It’s not what that psychopathic friend of yours said. And even if he were lying, Jim, there’s your evidence. Spock’s not exactly up to rock ‘n’ roll, is he? Not that he ever was.”
“He’s badly injured. You said so yourself. Even if there were no question about his katra, he’d need surgery, brain surgery. But that wouldn’t get him all the way home. You could deal with the physical damage and he would walk and breathe again but he wouldn’t be Spock, not without his katra. At least, I think that’s right. You, of all people, should know, Bones. Does that sound right to you?”
“Inasmuch as any of Vulcan voodoo could possibly sound right,” the doctor grumbled, “I’m a doctor not a Vulcan Master,” but Kirk could see he had his attention. “But you’ve just got rid of the only person who seemed to know where his katra was. And it sure as hell isn’t where it ought to be.”
“Perhaps not,” Kirk agreed. “In fact, that is exactly right, Bones. It’s not where it ought to be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not here.”
“Here – as in, on the shuttle? In this room?”
“In this room,” he said, steadily.
McCoy looked at him, askance. He gathered himself visibly into Georgian rant mode, and then checked, and his tone gentled.
“I know you want to believe it, Jim. And God knows I do too, though I will deny it on oath if you ever tell the hobgoblin – if you ever get the chance, and I hope you do. But there’s no evidence, Captain. It’s not what my machines say and Spock himself is not saying anything. And that’s the point.”
“Nevertheless,” Kirk said, straight into the blue eyes, “it is true.” It was only as the words left his mouth that he realised the extent of his confidence. It was true. He knew it.
Which left him with only one problem. How much was he really prepared to tell McCoy?
He had finally learned what Spock had been trying to tell him about didactic and empirical memory. It had only taken six weeks, a deranged Romulan bent on psychotic revenge and a small cabin with a life support machine.
When he had asked Spock the reason for his actions when he’d disappeared with the Defiant in Tholian space, Spock (after a few vain attempts to talk about something completely different) had said, I was certain at the time of your continued existence.
And this had led him to ask Spock about Janice Lester, about how soon he had detected the switch. I want to know if you knew. And the Vulcan had admitted it, had said yes, he had known.
Of course, Vulcans are telepathic and humans aren’t. But Kirk had worked out what Spock had already realised, that there had been two people in all these conversations, all along. Spock wasn’t the only one who was capable of feeling (not that the irony of that contemplation escaped his captain, standing by the Vulcan’s bedside). He had stood in that other cabin on the doomed Enterprise, McCoy a dead weight in his arms, calling for the medics and he had felt Spock’s presence all around him, just as if the two of them were playing chess or planning strategies on the bridge. Oh yes, he had known. It had taken Sarek to explain to him why, but then there had followed the journey back to Genesis, those strange conversations with McCoy – half Bones, half Spock. They had found Spock’s regenerated body on Genesis and, even at the sadness of farewell to David, his heart had leapt with the physical recognition, with the wild surmise of possibilities. But that had been all. There had been nothing else. He had carried Spock off the dying planet and it might equally have been a piece of equipment, a sack of potatoes - or a stranger. There had been no aura, no sense of the person he had known.
Marillus had said, I am the keeper of the katra, and he had felt nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Only here, in this quiet room, saying goodbye to his friend, had the feelings come. He had sat here and heard the voices of the past, lost in sensation. He had heard Spock’s voice in his mind, taken suddenly back to that long-lost episode with Sargon and Henoch, heard the words, long forgotten, I’ll simply transfer somewhere else. He had not consciously summoned them, had not thought of Henoch in years. He’d been sitting there, trying to work out what to do, and Spock had offered his counsel exactly as he always had.
What exactly was a hunch, anyway? he asked himself, for the hundredth time, not knowing he was echoing Spock’s thoughts from the previous week. He could tell McCoy that he had left Marillus behind because he had an instinct the Romulan was lying, a feeling that Spock, that the essence of Spock, was still here, right in this room.
Or he could tell him the truth, which was not quite the same. He could tell him that he had sat here and heard Spock’s voice in his head, felt the Vulcan’s presence, and known without question that his friend was trying to reach him. And this mean two things, only one of which was that there was, after all, hope, that Spock was, in ways Kirk wasn’t qualified even to begin to understand, still within reach and not on the planet surface at the mercy of a renegade Romulan killer bent on revenge.
It also meant that his journey with Spock was over. It did, didn’t it? Oh, there were a hundred chapters in their history still unvisited, unchallenged. There were dozens of questions remaining, huge tracts of their shared history where he still wanted to go back, to point out, to give his perspective, to ask for the Vulcan’s, to understand and to celebrate. But he had his answer. Who Spock was, who they were, had not changed at all. If he, the human Kirk, could sit across the room, albeit a small one, without sound or touch or any form of connection and yet hear his friend’s voice and feel his presence, it meant that Spock’s connection with him was stronger than Genesis and stronger than Mount Seleya. It was not a thing of didactic memory, and no Vulcan acolyte or fast-track learning programme had taught it to him. It simply was. It was part of the fabric of who they both were and there was no room for further doubt.
It didn’t mean he wasn’t looking forward to those other conversations. A rush of unanswered questions tumbled, suddenly, into his brain – what had Spock been thinking, at the competency hearing after Gamma Hydra Four – come to that, what had either of them been thinking? Had that really been the best way to deal with the situation? You would have thought that they would have found a better way, between the two of them, even with the ravages of age degeneration. What had he felt when he had been forced, along with McCoy and Flavius, to fight in the gladiator ring in front of Kirk and Merik and his Proconsul? He remembered Spock’s endearingly earnest attempt to persuade his adversary of the futility of fighting. How much stranger must it all have been for someone to whom the Christian faith was as alien as the Roman slave trade? Miranda Jones, Harry Mudd, Landru. A train of other images passed in front of his mind, the other conversations they had never had.
He hoped with all that he had that he still got the chance to have them.
Back to the present, and McCoy was saying, an unusual note in his voice,
“Jim. Jim, listen to me. You’ve got to face facts.”
He wanted, inappropriately, to laugh. What facts could he offer to Bones?
When Kirk had been very small, he used to enjoy watching his mother cooking on the old-fashioned stove in the ranch in Iowa. There had been a particular favourite of his and Sam’s involving toffee sauce and liquorice which had involved bringing two pans of water to the same temperature on a low heat. In a flurry of enthusiasm, he had saved his credits one year and bought her for her birthday a specialised thermometer which could be set to inform the chef of the comparative temperatures of whatever was cooking. She had kissed him and exclaimed and admired the gift and showed it off to the neighbours, but he had noticed, hurt, that she had never used it. Instead, she would, as she always had, dip her finger into first one pan and then the other, with a far-away look on her face which simply knew, by reference to one pan, how warm the other was. She didn’t need the gadget he had ordered with such loving fervour. He had retrieved it, after a while, and he and Sam had dismantled it and used the parts to build a phaser which, whilst not posing any great threat to the peace of the realm, had actually managed to startle a curious rooster unwarily interrupting target practice. The rooster had squawked and disappeared in outrage and he and Sam had looked at each other in awe and trepidation and then laughed until the tears had come.
Their mother had never noticed the absence of the kitchen gadget, nor the slight singeing of the rooster’s tail feathers.
Kirk knew that Spock was in the room simply by reference to the fact that he wasn’t in the main cabin. It was as simple as that. Cross the threshold, sit beside the still body, and he was there. He could do it as often as he liked, walk in and out, and every time he walked into the little cabin with the life support machine, he knew all over again. It wasn’t quite the same as testing the comparative temperature of water, but at the same time when he walked into Spock’s cabin, he was aware of a sensation of warmth stealing over him and wondered if his mother had felt this way, had the same recognition of getting it right.
He didn’t know how or why it was so, and critically, he didn’t have a clue what to do about it. But his friend was there in the Polaris and not with Marillus on the Romulan homeworld and that, so far as Kirk was concerned, was where it all ended and where it all began.
It left him with the small task of getting both his friends out of Romulan space with Spock still breathing and then finding a way to reconnect the Vulcan to his katra – again. And the somewhat trickier task of discussing the way ahead with McCoy.
He turned, with a small sigh, to begin.
Day thirty six, they reached the far side of the Neutral Zone and Federation space.
It had been an uneventful journey. Kirk and McCoy had taken it in turn to sleep, and if Kirk had tried to sleep less, aware that piloting cloaked shuttles through Romulan space was not in McCoy’s job description, he also knew that McCoy had bent the schedule to spend more hours than there were written into his shift worrying over the readings from Spock’s life support machine. It had been time of silent introspection since so much of their waking hours had been passed in solitude.
Kirk had spent most of his in Spock’s room. Just as he knew that McCoy would battle for the Vulcan’s life until the last gasp, he also knew that McCoy placed as much credence in Santa Claus as he did in Kirk’s views on Spock’s katra. That was why Kirk knew that McCoy would spend all his waking hours trying to figure out how to restore Spock and none of it in communicating with him.
Considering Spock’s fragile health and the normal dialogue between Kirk’s senior officers, that might, of course, not be an unmixed blessing.
Kirk, not for the first time regretting the absence of Scotty, had managed to re-route the console to Spock’s room and had spent the majority of his shifts sitting by the Vulcan’s prone form, monitoring encrypted communications and watching for Romulan activity in the area. Twice a vessel had come near and Kirk had plotted random trajectories and ducked and dived but on both occasions the other ships (one Bird of Prey, one heavy cargo freighter) had simply continued on their courses, undeviating, and the little crew of the Polaris had relaxed. Or at least two thirds of it had. McCoy had slept through both incidents.
Why was he so sure that Spock had not been oblivious? Kirk’s certainty about his First Officer had grown incrementally since the moment of revelation about the whereabouts of his katra. Once he and McCoy had settled into their pattern of alternate shifts, he’d started talking out loud to the Vulcan. He had no desire to court the inevitable Georgian sarcasm had he been overheard – or perhaps it was because he was reluctant to encounter the particular brand of sympathetic understanding and the supposedly tactful attempt to disillusion him which discovery would have entailed. He had been scanning a report from HQ one day and found himself snorting out loud and then, casting an automatic glance back at Spock’s prone form, offering the Vulcan his views on Komack’s latest proposals for operations deployment. Spock, unsurprisingly, had failed to agree with Kirk but then neither had he disagreed. And Kirk had, it turned out, not been looking for an explicit response, simply the familiar age-old comfort of companionable sharing. From then on, he had fallen into the habit of discussing the incidents of the day with Spock, either because something in him refused to treat the Vulcan as though he wasn’t there, or because he found the one-sided conversations reassuring.
It had occurred to him that if it all went wrong, if either surgery or the recovery of the katra proved too much of a challenge, these silent conversations might be the last he ever had with the Vulcan. But, being Kirk, he didn’t allow the thought much purchase.
At the first opportunity since leaving Marillus on Romulus, he had sent an encrypted message to Sarek on Vulcan, explaining in bare outline what had happened. He had had a brief message back, saying only that he should contact Sarek once they had passed the Neutral Zone. He had reflected then that Spock’s predilection, which so annoyed McCoy, of stripping out every syllable of emotional commentary, was a matter of genetic legacy. Informed that his son had been attacked by a psychotic, vengeful Romulan and left for dead with his katra disabled for the second time in as many months, Sarek’s response had been:
Captain, please contact me to discuss more fully when your vessel reaches Federation space.
But if Kirk smiled on reading the message, it was a different smile than it might have been a few months earlier. Could it be, that after all this time, he was beginning to understand Sarek? The last time Spock has mislaid his katra, Kirk had felt his father’s presence in his own mind and allowed Sarek to watch Spock die, again, through his own memories. The experience left little room for ignorance on the part of either as to what Spock meant to each of them.
This left him, now, reaching for the shuttle comm switch with a sense if not exactly of relief then at least of the feeling of contacting an ally. The truth was that Kirk was better at dealing with Klingons than katras, and in the absence of any more effective communication with Spock himself, he was more than prepared to cede authority to Sarek in terms of working out the next steps.
Polaris to Sarek, Vulcan Communication Centre, come in please.
“Polaris, this is Sarek. How is Spock?”
“His condition is unchanged, Ambassador,” Kirk said. “Please advise.”
“Captain, please recount what took place on Romulus. Omit no details.”
He had expected no less. At what point, on the journey from the conference over Coridan membership of the Federation, through Mount Seleya via San Francisco, had he stopped resented Sarek’s automatic assertion of authority over every situation, his refusal to soften either a direct order where he had no formal command role or a discussion about the survival of his only son? It came to Kirk, then, that it was part of Spock. That understanding Spock included understanding Gol, understanding Vulcan and understanding Sarek. That learning to appreciate the parts of Spock which remained alien to him was part of appreciating those parts which were as familiar as his own fingertips.
He wondered whether Spock himself had finally learned the same lesson about Sarek. He remembered the Council chamber at Starfleet, Spock’s farewell to his father a bare few months ago:
Your associates are people of good character.
They are my friends.
Yes, of course.
Spock had won that round on points. And then Kirk remembered the ritual farewell which had followed between father and son – Live long and prosper. Sarek had better make sure that one came true, he thought grimly, even as he set out, for the benefit of his First’s father, the exact details of how Spock came to be lying in the smallest cabin on the Polaris. He omitted nothing – not even, after the smallest of hesitations, Kirk’s own reasoning as to the location of Spock’s katra. Not all Kirk’s memories of Vulcan were as affectionate as others. Some memories died hard. He figured he was entitled to that tiny hesitation.
“I will meet you on Earth, Kirk.”
Taken aback, he said,
“Of course. I thought, though – should we not go to Vulcan? Does Spock not need to go to Mount Seleya? The fal-tor-pan?”
“Are you able to provide Spock with the medical attention of which he is in need?”
“He is in good hands, sir,” Kirk said, immediately. “McCoy will take him through surgery when we get to Earth. He’s learned a good bit about Vulcan anatomy over the years and I think it’s fair to say that he’s an expert on Spock.” Who wasn’t, of course, Vulcan – not entirely so – and who had something of a unique physiology and would therefore struggle to find the optimum medical care on Vulcan. As Sarek well knew. “Regardless of whether he would admit it in front of McCoy, Spock himself is aware that McCoy is best placed to look after him.” Irresistibly, Psi 2000 came to mind and McCoy’s words to Spock – Your pulse is 243, your blood pressure is practically non-existent, assuming you call that green stuff in your veins blood. AndKirk found himself remembering, of all things, Sigma Draconis, the last time McCoy had performed brain surgery on Spock. I should never have reconnected his mouth. There would be no Teacher this time to guide McCoy, but somehow he didn’t think that would matter.
“Then McCoy should perform the surgery on Earth.”
“Yes, but – McCoy can’t help Spock with his katra.”
Were Sarek anyone else – were he McCoy, for example, or Scotty, or Bob Wesley, Nogura, Uhura, Chekov, Harry Mudd or Kirk’s own mother – in fact, were Sarek anyone in the known Universe other than Sarek, Kirk would have sworn that his voice held the slightest trace of amusement as he replied. As, in fact, he was of course Sarek, this was clearly not the case.
“Kirk, Spock is not in need of the fal-tor-pan. The Masters at Gol will not employ the ancient arts where there is no need. There is no separation of the katra and Spock lives still. McCoy will heal his body and I will help him to reach his katra.”
“And you can do this, sir?”
“I am skilled in Vulcan healing and I am Spock’s father and I know his mind. I can do this. I will inform Spock’s mother and I will meet you on Earth in six point four days. Sarek out.”
Kirk, the connection terminated, remained seated where he was and looked at his First Officer.
“I guess we are all set, Commander.”
There was the hum of the shuttle engines, and otherwise silence. But it was a good silence. Kirk paused a little, and then went on, out loud
“I guess, you know, I’ve taken time to understand your father. We didn’t meet in the easiest of circumstances. And it was hard to understand him, given – well, given everything.” Given that Sarek was largely responsible for the dark places in Spock’s past and the silence he had carried instead of the support of his family. And given that Kirk had looked at Sarek and wondered what this meant in terms of who Spock was – whether Spock was more alien than Kirk had realised, whether Sarek was Spock’s truth and Sarek was Spock’s future, instead of Kirk’s chess opponent, McCoy’s mock adversary and the person to whom Edith Keeler had once said At his side, as if you’ve always been there and always will.
And given that Kirk had gone right back to wondering exactly the same things, after Mount Seleya. As, of course, Spock well knew, whether or not he said so and whether or not he was able now to speak at all from his horizontal perspective.
If he had wanted Spock to reach out and understand, again, the human framework in which he and Kirk had found each other, perhaps Spock, no less, had needed Kirk to see the Vulcan cloak he had worn, emerging from Mount Seleya, and recognise its value, its significance as an integral part of Spock, and not just see it as a stage on a journey to recovery.
Kirk sat back, and let a smile creep over his face. He felt both tiredness and relief claim him, as though he were finally accepting, even in the face of an immobile and incapacitated Spock prone before him, that after Genesis, Mount Seleya, the Federation Council and the Romulan homeworld, that it was finally, after all, going to be all right.
The smile broadened and reached his eyes. For a minute, had anyone been present to see except a Vulcan on life support, he looked like the James T Kirk of the five year mission, without the years that had followed of frustration and aging, of grief and loss.
“I guess, you know, Spock,” he said, softly. “Given where you are coming from, having a team composed of Sarek and McCoy to help you on your way is pretty much perfect. You’ll come through with all the tools you’ll need for every path you could follow in life.”
He kept hold of that thought all the way through what took place on Earth at the Starfleet Medical Centre in San Francisco. The moment of optimism on the Polaris bore him a long way but wasn’t always proof against the moments of doubt. It was barely three months since he had paced the harsh dawn of Mount Seleya, keeping vigil after he had delivered Spock and McCoy into the care of the Masters. What trick of fate had brought him back to the same long night, the same endless tread, this time alone, without his crew, around the waiting room and the gardens of an Earth hospital?
Sarek and McCoy had both warned him that the process would not be short. He had assumed, from this, that each was talking about their own part in the task which would save Spock’s life, and that the combined effort would take all night. McCoy, already deep in the preoccupation of a surgeon whose mind is fixed on his patient, had looked at him kindly enough and said, “Go back to your apartment, Jim, I’ll let you know soon as there is anything to say.” It was Sarek, actually, who simply nodded at Kirk, as if to acknowledge that Kirk was going nowhere. He had tried sitting in the waiting room, then pacing in the waiting room, and then walked round the gardens in the dark, welcoming after all this time the feeling of Earth midnight air on his face. As the night wore on, though, and the time (surely) drew near when news might come, he had gone back inside, to stand and wait.
It was not the same as Mount Seleya. The stakes had been so much higher then and the end so uncertain. The loss of David had been raw, the lives of both Spock and McCoy hung in the balance and his own future was completely unknown. Now, it felt as though Spock’s recovery was all it took, the final piece which would restore not only his own friendship with Spock but the rest of his world, would see him back on the Enterprise, his crew reunited, setting out for the stars again. Somehow, the intervening period, the voyage to Romulus and back, had allowed him to start the journey which would take the rest of his life but where the gradient would level out – of accepting David’s death, of learning to treasure what was left and look forward to what was to come.
He had spoken to Wesley, both from the shuttle and, briefly, on arrival, before he had lost time and concentration for anything other than what was going on in the theatre of the Medical Centre and the small room beside it where Sarek sat, clothed in white. They knew now what had happened to Colton and why, and who Marillus was, and the end of the journey which had started with the ill-fated mission the Enterprise had undertaken in the Neutral Zone, all those years ago. It wasn’t much, and Kirk had the feeling that for all the investment in the Polaris, he had never returned from a mission with so little to show for it.
In one way, of course. In another way, he had brought back all he had ever needed.
He started to think about the strange partnership, working together to save Spock. Sarek and McCoy. Were two individuals ever less suited for collaboration? Yet McCoy had once saved Sarek’s life before. Neither would ever understand or appreciate the other’s choices, but Kirk wondered if he couldn’t see the seeds of trust and respect – not that there would ever be a Vulcan or Georgian acknowledgement of this. And, just as he was thinking this, with a slight smile tugging at his mouth, the door opened and the two stood before him.
McCoy smiled at him briefly.
“He’ll be ok, Jim. God knows why, because you know he’s not wired up like normal Vulcans, let alone normal human beings, and if you take one look at his insides, you almost wonder why he’s not even crazier than he is, but the truth is the green-blooded son of a bitch just doesn’t know when to give up, like normal people. Figure we’re stuck with him for life. Guess you’ll even be pleased about that.”
Kirk smiled his thanks, but his eyes went to Sarek for the real answer.
The tall figure bowed his head, briefly. Spock’s father allowed even less to show than Spock, but he looked tired, nonetheless.
“The katra is restored and Spock is himself.”
Kirk waited, but this appeared to be all. Either Sarek was more tired than Kirk had thought, or less bothered by the recovery of his only son. Or he was trying to figure out what McCoy was talking about. That would take him a while, Kirk reflected, and he said,
“Sir, can you explain further what happened?”
“It is to a degree conjecture, Captain. However, my assumption is that Legate Marillus was attempting a procedure in practice millennia ago as a barbaric form of punishment for crimes against the community, involving the forcible removal of the katra. I conclude that Spock defended himself, essentially by relocating his own katra to a point beyond Marillus’ reach. It is impossible to explain in terms which you would understand, Captain, but you might perhaps consider it as though the katra were a dislocated joint, still attached to the body but not able to function by will of the body, requiring an external agent to restore to its proper capacity.”
Kirk thought this through, attempting (to a limited degree of success) to ignore the disdain of It is impossible to explain in terms which you would understand. It was not that Sarek was not entirely entitled to speak as he did, it was more that Kirk would have preferred it not to sound as though Sarek thought that Kirk should really have learned his two times table by now.
He asked, curious,
“How, sir? If Spock were able to thwart Marillus in this way, would that not always be a defence to such an attempt?”
There was definitely an emotion on Sarek’s face this time, and Kirk recognised it. Pride, but mixed with something else.
“It requires advanced mental skills and strength, Captain, to an unusual degree. My son has studied at Gol and he has had more experience than most of understanding the different aspects of his own mind. Moreover, his mind is unique and this may have proved too much of a challenge for Marillus. And the recent loss of his katra and the experience of the fal-tor-pan, followed by intensive re-learning and study, will have enforced this. In my estimation,” an infinitesimal pause, followed by a statement so astounding Kirk could hardly compute it, “Spock has more understanding and more acceptance of his own mind than many others and this gives him greater mental strength.”
Kirk stared at him. Two thoughts whirled through his mind. Was that really true – was this the gift which Genesis and Mount Seleya had finally brought to Spock, so divided all his life? What part had been played by the journey to Romulus, of which Sarek knew nothing? – though Kirk would never underestimate Sarek, ever again. And how – how – had it come about that Sarek, of all people, could acknowledge this?
He was not even aware of remembering how to breathe when Sarek stirred, and he spoke again.
“I am returning to Vulcan, Kirk. I take my leave.”
Kirk took an involuntary step forward.
“Sir – forgive me. You are tired. Let me arrange quarters for you. And Spock will want to see you when he wakes, to thank you.”
Sarek met his eyes, and Kirk found, after all, that what he had taken for exhaustion was more something almost of peace. Or was he kidding himself? Was an ability to read Spock’s expression of any relevance at all in dealing with his father? Sarek said quietly,
“Spock is already awake, Captain. He has no further need for me and I see that he is where he needs to be. I thank you and your Chief Medical Officer for your care for him.”
He had only started to get his head round the idea that Sarek had thanked him twice in three months, even though one does not thank logic, when he realised that the space in front of him was empty, and the Vulcan had gone.
What was it, truly, that he had seen in Sarek’s face? If not exhaustion, was it acceptance? Was it resolution? Sarek and Spock had fought for all of Spock’s life, and it had been because Spock had walked out on Sarek and walked out on Sarek’s life and Sarek’s choices and Sarek’s values. When you do that, Kirk thought, you can’t share so much with your family but they can’t help you much, either. If you accepted, as a premise, which neither Spock nor McCoy ever would, that at rock bottom Vulcans and humans shared more than divided them, then it had to be the case that it must have hurt Sarek bitterly to have watched his son over the years, growing in stature and achievements but also courting risk and danger – and never being able to help. When Spock had been lost at Genesis, it was Sarek who had sought Kirk out and been the catalyst for the long journey back, but it was the Masters at Mount Seleya who had restored Spock to health. This time, it had been Sarek. He had repaid the silence of the years and he had looked at Spock’s life on Earth, at Kirk and at McCoy, and he had truly accepted that it was time to let his son go.
Your associates are people of good character.
Which meant, of course, Kirk reflected, that Spock would go back, as those who are set free often do. But he had no time to pursue this thought further, as his whole consciousness was focused on the first four words Sarek had spoken.
Spock is already awake.
Reaching out, as he left the room, to touch McCoy’s arm in gratitude, he made his way to the recovery centre off the operating theatre. It was nearly 0400 hours and it was quiet, a small group of nurses at stations, the hum of midnight machines, an air of quietly keeping watch. He hesitated, and McCoy, following unnoticed at his shoulder, said,
“He’s in that room, Jim. I’m going to get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t stay long and don’t believe him if he tells you he doesn’t need to rest. Pointy-eared son of a gun has computer circuits instead of veins and doesn’t have the first understanding or appreciation of medicine,” and then he was gone and Kirk was alone and moving through the doors.
His First Officer lay on a biobed below a screen humming with lights and indicators, none of which Kirk needed to see or understand to know that the procedure had worked. Spock’s eyes were closed but, even in repose, he was Spock again. His face was full of everything which had been missing on the long days from Romulus to Earth.
Kirk sat down, very quietly, and let out a deep breath of thanksgiving. Who knew which Spock would wake?
The Spock of Mount Seleya? Your name is Jim.
The Spock of Gol? Science Officer Spock, reporting as ordered, Captain.
Yet Kirk would never feel quite the same way about Gol, or Vulcan. If Sarek had learned to appreciate Spock’s human half, Kirk had cause – more than cause – to appreciate what Spock had learned at Gol. If he had taken that journey to Romulus all over again, would he have tried so hard to break down Spock’s mental barriers? Could Spock be both, somehow, the chess adversary so in touch with his human half and the Vulcan with the mental strength to protect himself against threats like Marillus? If Spock never teased him again or beat him at chess but was going to get up from this bed and walk by Kirk’s side and serve with him on his reborn Enterprise, to fight by his side and back him up and be his guide and his conscience through another thousand missions, Kirk would count his blessings and cease to see it as a compromise, cease to see the ghost of past manifestations of friendship as a personal failing or chalk it up on the slate against the Vulcan community.
At least, that was what he told himself.
And then Spock’s eyes opened. For the smallest amount of time, perhaps computable by a Vulcan as 4.38 seconds, they looked unseeing at machinery, door, bed. And then the eyes of the First Officer focused, and the head turned towards Kirk.
Kirk smiled a little.
“Good morning, Commander. You’re up early.” He let a beat fall, and then added, softly, forgetting that he’d just decided to be content with a First Officer from Mount Seleya,
“You had me worried there, you know, Spock. How are you feeling?”
Spock met his eyes and there was absolutely no question at all. The truth was that if you got used to talking to Sarek, in comparison, trying to discern traces of emotion in Spock was like suddenly being handed a magnifying glass. It wasn’t that his First was smiling, he thought, trying (and failing) not to do so himself in overwhelming relief, it was just that he looked as though he were home again.
“I feel fine,” Spock said, gravely. And then he spoke again, and it was all Kirk needed to hear, in a way he couldn’t begin to understand, to know that he had been right, all those weeks on the shuttle – that Spock had heard every single word, spoken and unspoken, and that there was, in face, nothing left to explain or to understand or to forgive:
“Thank you, Jim.”
Spock made a small gesture from the past with his right hand, and Kirk was suddenly in the sickbay of the Enterprise, V’Ger still out there, somewhere, the first time Spock had returned to him from Mount Seleya all those years ago. He gave himself the permission to lean forward and grasp the Vulcan’s hand hard, in a touch so brief that anyone but Kirk might have missed the answering pressure, so swift that a witness might easily have missed it.
But there were no witnesses in the small, quiet room and no one to see or hear.
Thanks so much, everyone, for sticking with me, and I'm sorry for recent pauses between chapters. Thank you for all the feedback and support.
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